Cave Conservancy Management

John M. Wilson

Diane Cousineau

National Speleological Society, 9504 Lakewater Court, Henrico, VA 23229

Southeast Cave Conservancy, 737 Glass Road, LaFayette, GA 30728

 

Abstract

Cave conservancies are specialized land trusts that manage caves or karst features as their primary mission. They are usually non-profit organizations, and their management methodologies are diverse. The number of cave conservancies in the United States grew from one in 1968 to 25 in 2009. Conservancies have become the primary means by which appropriate caves and karst areas are managed by cavers. Resources have come from many hundreds of volunteers who have applied their diverse skills as cave managers, fund-raisers and speleologists. Their cave management control methods take different forms, including enlightened management by the owner, informal management arrangements, leases and various types of contracts, conservation easements, and fee simple ownership. Cave conservancies manage more than 185 properties, with over 3186 hectares of karst land. These managed lands have more than 409 caves and more than 571 km of cave passage.

 

The conservancy movement’s success can be attributed to various factors. Competence and success are norms within the organized caving community, and these values inspire other cavers to greater effort. Each subsequent managing group has built upon the accomplishments of the previous leaders. Applying a consistent management model typifies the conservancies that are continuing to grow. Conservation and access are the duel driving forces that provide the motivation cave conservancies use for building volunteer commitment and fundraising success. Although there are a few exceptions, cave conservancies rely on volunteers almost exclusively to manage and operate. Relatively high living standards in the United States since World War II, along with sufficient leisure time, have allowed enough interested cavers to have the resources necessary to build these organizations.

 

The cave conservancies were ranked according to several cave ownership factors and then grouped into nine levels that show the extent of the conservancy's success in acquiring caves. The most important factors contributing to cave acquisition success are listed in an approximate order of importance: 1. have cave acquisition as a primary mission; 2. operate where there are many caves; 3. have a management structure that is independent of outside control; 4. have an effective risk management plan;  5. have strong leadership capable of developing the organization, overcoming distractions, and staying on mission; 6. have effective resource gathering systems; and 7. be either owners, to acquire the most caves, or servers and do it well. These seven factors are correlated with cave acquisition success, and conservancies that can utilize these factors will acquire more caves than those that do not.

 

 

Cave Conservancy - Definition and Scope

Cave conservancies are specialized land trusts that manage caves or karst features as their primary mission. They are usually non-profit organizations, and their management methodologies are diverse. Conservancies that manage karst land with few caves are usually and appropriately called karst conservancies. These are included in this study, although the focus of the research is cave management. When land trusts own caves, but cave management is not part of their mission, then these land trusts are not considered cave conservancies and they are not part of this study. The number of cave conservancies in the United States grew from one in 1968 to about 25 in 2009. Conservancies have become the primary means by which significant caves and karst areas are managed, other than those caves managed by governmental agencies. Cave conservancies in the United States now manage more than 185 properties, with over 3186 hectares of karst land and at least 409 caves, with more than 571 kilometers of cave passage. Abbreviations are used exclusively in this paper to identify the 25 conservancies. Their names are listed in column 3 in the "Factors related to the scope of cave acquisition and management" table.

 

Goals and Motivation

Cavers have experienced access problems from owners concerned about liability or owners who have the perception that people entering the caves are undesirable visitors engaged in a high risk activity. Land development is another reason caves have been closed to cavers.  The dual driving forces of cave access and conservation, both intellectual and emotional, drive the cave conservancy movement and account for much of its success. The environmental philosophy has provided the intellectual rationalization to justify the importance of cave conservation and protection by conservancies. Mineral formations are especially vulnerable to both intentional and unintentional damage, and once damaged, they usually remain so forever. Cave biota face the same threats and risks, as cave life has often evolved in isolated cave environments, with small populations that are vulnerable to extinction. The emphasis placed on either access or conservation varies according to the circumstances of each conservancy. Access threats can be a powerful incentive to a dedicated caver perceiving a favorite cave will be closed. Cave conservation has almost universal appeal and is the basis of marketing and tax exempt status. Educational interests also support the movement, as supporters envision the cave resource as a tool with which to educate for science and conservation. Once a conservancy is established, it may also rely more on the social dynamics of group cohesiveness to build an organization and achieve its goals. Many long-time and older cavers feel an obligation to protect the resources and to contribute to the activity in which they have been involved for much of their lives. Physical limitations from aging may change the nature of their participation to more managing and conserving than caving. Many cavers have also come to understand that good stewardship extends to protecting the land above the caves, as well as the cave passage below.

 

Volunteerism

Americans have served extensively as volunteers in all types of organizations throughout the history of the republic, so it is no surprise that cave conservancies rely on volunteers almost exclusively to manage and operate. With the exception of religious activities, no other society has a comparable amount of volunteer activity and the number and diversity of non-profit organizations as does the USA. The form taken by cave conservancies in the USA and the level of success is comparable to voluntarism in other types of non-profit organizations.

 

Funding

People who give their time to an organization as volunteer workers are making a “cash in kind” donation; this is the primary source of wealth for many cave conservancies, and often it is conservancy members who have been the major cash contributors as well. Several examples are BCCS, IKC, NSS, and SCCI, which are notable for their success in both these areas. Dues, donations, major gifts, small fundraising events, and fees for services are the most widely used means of fundraising. This is in addition to the extensive volunteer time that all cave conservancies receive in significant amounts. CCV is unique among cave conservancies in that it uses gaming as an effective fundraising tool. Establishing a gaming infrastructure is capital and labor intensive and accompanied by assorted risks. This form of funding is not likely to be used by other conservancies.

 

Cave Management Control Type

The following is the sequence of control levels that are used to classify the type of legal relationship the conservancy has with a cave property. The six methods identify in increasing order of strength the control the conservancy has in managing a cave property. SICLEO system: enlightened Self management by owner, Informal management arrangement, general Contract, Lease, Conservation Easement, and Own. Many conservancies use several of these methods. The "Factors" table lists the primary method used by each conservancy.

 

Management Structure

All cave conservancies have some form of board management. They fall into four types. The most common is a board that is independent and self-perpetuating. The second is a board that has members appointed by another organization such as an NSS Grotto. Two conservancies have this structure: PCC and NJCC. This structure seems to present the most difficulty for effective management. The conservancies with boards appointed by other organizations as a group manage the fewest caves and have the least resources. The third board type has a strong paid executive. Conservancies are mostly volunteer organizations. Only two conservancies have paid staff. The president of TCC is an employee, and CCV has several paid fundraisers. The fourth type is an organization controlled by one person or a small group. This type will have a nominal board.

 

Nominal and Incidental Cave Conservancies

Some cave conservancies are not cave and land managers, but rather organizations with cave related missions such as public education, grant making, and cave conservation. While these functions are worthwhile and are often needed, they are not the focus of this study, which evaluated functions that relate to cave management and control. This type of conservancy is included in this study for comparison purposes. Some very significant land trusts are not included in this study. The Nature Conservancy, which owns many caves as an incidental part of its mission, is the most significant example of this type. Governmental agencies which own many of the most significant caves are also not included in the study.

 

Cave Acquisition Success Factors

The conservancy movement success can be attributed to various factors. Competence and success are norms within the organized caving community, and these values inspire other cavers to greater effort. Each subsequent managing group has built upon the accomplishments of the previous leaders. Relatively high living standards in the United States since World War II, along with sufficient leisure time, have allowed enough interested cavers to have the resources necessary to build these organizations. All active conservancies have had some degree of success in meeting their goals. The significance of these varied accomplishments has often been quite important; however, this study only evaluated success of cave acquisition by any means that achieved operational control of caves. Public trust is necessary for the long-term survival of the organization, and most conservancies have done some work in establishing credibility among some components of the public. A potential follow-up study could evaluate karst land management by conservancies. Long-term success of cave acquisition methods is more difficult to measure. For example, one may conclude that fee simple ownership represents a more effective long-term solution than leasing or other means of cave management control. There is insufficient long-term data to make a valid comparison. Present information indicates that many leased cave agreements continue for many years and that some convert to ownership. Ownership is usually very capital intensive. More time is needed to make conclusions on the relative effectiveness of different cave management control methods.

 

Methodology

We found seven factors related to cave acquisition success by cave conservancies. The twenty-five known cave conservancies were ranked according to their success in acquiring significant caves and cave properties in quantity.

 

The size of the managed property and length of the cave passage were used for practical reasons as proxies for cave and land significance, since no adequate information on the geologic, biologic, and aesthetic value of caves and land is available in a comparative format. The number of properties owned or leased is an indicator of cave acquisition commitment and effectiveness. These three criteria (property size, number of properties, and cave length) were used to create ten groups of increasingly stringent qualifications with group ten having the highest standards. Each of the twenty-five conservancies was placed in the highest group for which it met all three standards. A weighting system of these three criteria was used to rank each conservancy within its group. The researchers examined the practices, websites, and some publications and reports of each conservancy in addition to interviewing selected leaders. This study did not evaluate other valid accomplishment areas such as public education, grant making, or karst land management that involved few or no caves.

 

Conclusions

The seven most important factors contributing to cave acquisition success are listed in an approximate order of importance. Please refer to the “Factors” table for data on each item.

 

1. Mission - All of the cave conservancies that own or manage significant caves either have cave ownership as a primary mission or have cave acquisition by various means as an important component of its mission. All the conservancies in the four most effective groups, seven through ten, have one or both mission types. All conservancies with more than ten miles of cave passage have cave acquisition as their primary mission, except for two national organizations and CCV, which acquired a large cave under special circumstances. Organizations with missions that are clear and consistent have more properties than those that have experienced mission creep or flip between different or opposing missions.

 

Conservancies have a continuum of different cave access models. Their acquisitions range from caves that are completely open, to very restrictive and closed access caves, depending of the circumstances and philosophy of each conservancy leadership. The explorers, the preserver, the conservers, the scientists, the recreationalists, and the managers have specific interests. The mission emphasis of each conservancy varies significantly depending on the degree to which the leadership adheres to the interests of one or more of these groups. The explorer philosophy predominates in some conservancies that have made exceptional efforts to find, explore, map, and control new caves. They often have acquired caves that were never popular or were newly discovered. Recreational and project cavers dominate conservancies that have concentrated on acquiring popular recreational caves, usually for the purpose of maintaining open access. Conservation emphasis often predominates in conservancies that have restricted access.

 

2. Location - The conservancy’s area of operation must have sufficient caves with perceived significance to justify the effort to acquire caves. Conservancies in Michigan, New Jersey, and the Northeast, for example, are constrained in cave acquisition by a more limited supply compared to conservancies in Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The "Factors" table shows that groups 5 through 10 have more than 99 percent of the managed cave passage, and all of the conservancies but two are in cave rich areas. The WCC is limited in cave acquisition, as most of the significant caves in the western United States area are government owned. Conservancies in groups 6 and above function as cave conservancies and may have a karst conservancy function. Groups 3, 4, and 5 are mostly karst conservancies or one cave conservancies. Both location and mission may be a significant factor in the organization’s emphasis as a cave or karst conservancy.

 

3. Management Structure - All of the conservancies in the groups 4 through 10 are independent organizations. Three of the five conservancies in group 2 and 3 are dependent organizations. For example, in dependent organizations, most of the board members are appointed by other organizations. This arrangement prevents the development of a strong organization agenda with the leadership to implement it. Leadership is dependent on the whims of other groups. Dependent organization structure appears to be very strongly correlated with limited cave acquisition.

 

4. Risk Management - Irrational fear of lawsuits and other calamities will prevent conservancies from pursuing cave acquisition. Cave acquisition will be effectively stopped if people who have an expectation that cave acquisition must have zero risk before it can be done become influential in the organizational leadership. The most effective conservancies have realistic and cost effective risk management plans, including plans to reduce negligence in the management of their properties. Some additional methods include liability insurance and liability waivers. A few conservancies are self-insured. They have also worked to mitigate members’ irrational fears.

 

5. Leadership - Successful conservancies recognize the need for situational flexibility. They have usually not selected leaders with dogmatic ideologies or stubborn adherence to ideas that were not productive in their situation.  Mission consistency, developing leadership, and a membership base are important factors for any organization to achieve. Organizations must develop and replenish their leadership base and have effective decision making processes. There is a positive correlation with the number of people involved in the leadership and the number of caves managed. All of the failed conservancies were weak in the leadership area.

 

6. Resource Gathering - Various fundraising methods, property gifts, barter, and volunteer labor have all been used by successful cave acquiring conservancies. All of the conservancies in groups 4 through10 have been effective in at least one area of resource gathering. Only one conservancy in group 3, BCL, has been effective in resource gathering. At this time only one conservancy generated most of its assets from unrelated sources. No evaluation was done on unrelated funding.

 

7. Owners, Servers, Customers, and Beneficiaries - In addition to the legal qualifications for tax exempt status, conservancies provide services to varied beneficiaries. In addition to future generations who benefit from protected caves, the main beneficiaries of the conservancies’ efforts may vary. Historically, cavers have worked with cave owners as an effective strategy in meeting their various cave related goals.

 

This approach has evolved into the “servers” branch of conservancies. This branch has taken the idea of working with cave owners to its logical conclusion and provides cave management services to the cave owners. There are three sub-branches depending on the type of owner served. The “private cave owners” sub-branch, manages caves for land owners who appreciate this usually free service offered to them. In return, the conservancy gains cave access and can protect the cave. The “government” sub-branch, assist government agencies with publicly owned caves. The “developers” sub-branch servers assist companies and civic groups to manage caves in developments which have set aside land required as part of the land development. Cave management and consultant services may be provided to the developers.

 

The cave “owners” branch is composed of conservancies that have become the cave owners through fee simple land acquisition. The “owners” branch is split into sub-branches. One sub-branch, “cavers,” serves cavers in general, in addition to the general public in some cases. They make their properties accessible to most people, with a few special exceptions of caves requiring special protection for conservation. The “owners” model, best typified by the SCCI, allows almost anyone to have access to its caves.

 

The other sub-branch of “owners,” the “members,” has fairly strict control of its caves. Their management plans tend to make their caves open for members and restrictive to others. The “members” is best typified by the BCCS, which restricts access to members and their guests for most of its caves. It has regular expeditions during which other cavers and people with limited caving skills are allowed to enter appropriate caves. The “owners” branch has acquired more caves than the “servers”; however, in recent years the “servers” have been increasing their rate of cave acquisition.

 

A potential eighth factor, age, appears to be somewhat related to cave acquisition; however, the correlation is low. All of the oldest conservancies that started conservancy work before 1980 have done well and are in groups six and above; however, several conservancies founded in the 1980’s are the least successful in acquiring caves. The most successful cave acquirer, SCCI, was not founded until 1991.

 

These seven factors are correlated with cave acquisition success, and we think the conservancies that consider these factors in their organization's management will acquire more caves than those that do not. It is recognized that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, so judgment is needed to evaluate decisions regarding cave acquisition in each situation. Additional information is available at the NSS Cave Conservancy Committee website, www.caves.org/committee/ccc.

 


Factors related to the scope of cave acquisition and management by cave conservancies

Group Factor Criteria

1

Name of Conservancy

2

Name Abbr

3

Prop

4

Hectares

5

Caves

6

Km

7

Primary

Own 8

10 - Own at least:

25p, 100km, 400 ha

Southeastern Cave Conservancy

SCCI

27

492

63

121

Yes

9 - Own at least:

5 p, 25 km, 50 ha

 

National Speleological Society

NSS

13

74

18

64

Yes

Butler Cave Conservation Society

BCCS

5

61

9

65

Yes

Indiana Karst Conservancy

IKC

9

57

12

29

Yes

8 - Own at least:

4 p, 15 km, 10 ha

West Virginia Cave Conservancy

WVCC

7

12

8

68

Yes

Cave Conservancy of Hawaii

CCH

4

19

2

40

Yes

7 - Own at least:

3 p, 10 km, 8 ha

Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy

MAKC

7

1768

39

14

No

Texas Cave Management Assoc

TCMA

10

147

22

11

Yes

6 - Own or lease at least:

2 p, 5 km, 3 ha

 

 

Texas Cave Conservancy

TCC

66

89

171

8

No

Cave Conservancy of the Virginias

CCV

2

69

5

46

Yes

Appalachian Cave Conservancy

ACC

7

4

9

29

No

Springfield Plateau Grotto

SPG

7

9

18

8.2

No

Northeastern Cave Conservancy

NCC

5

14.9

10

3.44

Yes

5 - Own or lease

at least:

1 p, 4 km, 1.2 ha

Carroll Cave Conservancy

CCC

1

1.2

1

19

Yes

American Cave Conservation Association

ACCA

1

1.6

1

16

No

Karst Conservancy of Illinois

KCI

1

1.4

1

9.7

Yes

4 - Own or lease at least:

1 p, 0.5 km, 0.1 ha

 

Michigan Karst Conservancy

MKC

3

238

5

0.8

Yes

Rockcastle Karst Conservancy

RKC

1

123

1

1.2

Yes

Missouri Caves & Karst Conservancy

MCKC

5

2

6

.5

No

Western Cave Conservancy 

WCC

2

6

2

1.2

Yes

3 - Own or lease at least:

1 cave

Bubble Cave LLC

BCL

2

3.6

4

.2

Yes

Sinnett-Thorn Cave Conservancy

STCC

1

0

1

.8

No

New Jersey Cave Conservancy

NJCC

1

0

2

.5

No

Total

Total

 

187

3187

409

558

 

2 - Has no

caves or land

Pennsylvania Cave Conservancy

PCC

0

0

0

0

No

Canadian Cave Conservancy

CaCC

0

0

0

0

No

1 - Failed cave conservancies

or transferred conservancy function to other organization

Black Hills Cave Conservancy

BHCC

0

0

0

0

No

Bluegrass Karst Conservancy

BKC

0

0

0

0

No

Ellis Cave Conservancy

ECC

0

0

0

0

No

Greater Cincinnati Grotto - the conservancy function was given to RKC

GCG

0

0

0

0

No

Column Headings

1 - Criteria for ranking of conservancy - Own or lease: p = number of cave properties, km = kilometers of cave passage,

      ha = number of hectares of karst land managed

2 - Conservancy name

3 - Conservancy abbreviation

4 - Number of properties owned, leased, or managed

5 - Number of acres owned, leased, or managed

6 - Number of caves owned, leased, or managed

7 - Miles of cave passage owned, leased, or managed

8 - Is cave or land ownership the primary means, more than half, of management or control?


 

Factors related to the scope of cave acquisition and management by cave conservancies

Group Factor criteria

1

Abbr

3

Founding

Date

9

Primary mission

10

Acq import

11

Ind

Org

12

Branch

13

Service Area

14

Main

area

15

10 - Own at least:

25p, 100km, 400 ha

SCCI

1991

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/C

States

TAG +

9 - Own at least:

5 p, 25 km, 50 ha

 

NSS

1939/1967

No

Yes

Yes

O/C

Nation

USA

BCCS

1968

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/M

Region

The cove VA

IKC

1985

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/C

State

S. IN

8 - Own at least:

4 p, 15 km, 10 ha

WVCC

1997

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/C

State

WV+

CCH

2002

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/C

State

HI

7 - Own at least:

3 p, 10 km, 8 ha

MAKC

1997

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/P

States

PA+

TCMA

1985

Yes

No

Yes

O/P

State

Texas

6 - Own or lease at least:

2 p, 5 km, 4 ha

 

 

TCC

1994

No

Yes

Yes

S/P,DC

State

Texas

CCV

1980

No

No

Yes

O/M

States

VA WV

ACC

1977

Yes

Yes

Yes

S/P

Region

SW VA+

SPG

2006

No

Yes

Yes

S/C

Region

SW MO

NCC

1978

Yes

Yes

Yes

O/C

States

NY+

5 - Own or lease

at least:

1 p, 4 km, 1.2 ha

CCC

1998

Yes

No

Yes

O/M

1 cave

1 cave

ACCA

1978/1986

No

No

Yes

S/P, SG

Nation

USA

KCI

1998

No

Yes

Yes

O/P

State

IL

4 - Own or lease at least:

1 p, 0.5 km, 0.1 ha

 

MKC

1983

No

Yes

Yes

O/P

State

MI

RKC

2004

No

No

Yes

O/P

1 cave

1 cave

MCKC

1995

No

Yes

Yes

O/C

State

MO

WCC

2002

No

Yes

Yes

O/C

States

CA +

3 - Own or lease at least:

1 cave

BCL

1999

No

No

Yes

O/C

State

WV

STCC

?

No

No

No

S/P

1 cave

1 cave

NJCC

1984

No

No

No

S/SG

State

NJ +

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 - Has no

caves or land

PCC

1984

No

No

No

S/P

States

PA +

CaCC

1986

No

No

Yes

S/P

Nation

Canada

1 - Failed cave conservancies

or transferred conservancy function to other organization

BHCC

2002 est.

?

?

?

?

Region

SD

BKC

2003

?

?

Yes

?

Region

KY

ECC

1985

No

?

?

?

1 cave

1 cave

GCG

1989/

No

?

No

S/P

1 cave

1 cave

 

 

Column Headings

9 - Organization founding date and cave conservancy function start date, if different

10 - Is cave ownership or acquisition the primary mission of the organization?

11 - Is acquisition of additional caves an important part of the organization's mission?

12 - Is the organization an independent organization not controlled by another organization or group of organizations?

13 - The 1st letter codes are O = Primarily Owner or S =Service provider to owner. The 2nd letter codes are the Beneficiaries,

      C = Cavers, M = Members, P = the Public, DC = Developer or Corporation, and SG = a State or Government agency.

14 - The type of service area

15 - The main area of cave ownership or management. + sign = Conservancy has additional service areas.