Execution of Master Participating Agreement between USDA Forest Service andthe National Speleological Society

Guads Peak Sunset - Peter Jones

Authors: Limaris Soto 1 , Chad Harrold 2 , and Michael Fracasso 1
Affiliation: USDA Forest Service – WO Lands, Minerals, and Geology (LMG) 1 , George
Washington & Jefferson National Forests 2

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service manages diverse cave and karst
resources across its National Forests and Grasslands. The Forest Service (FS) has
responsibility under the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988 (FCRPA; 36 Code of
Federal Regulations §290) to secure, protect, and preserve significant caves on Federal lands
for the perpetual use, enjoyment, and benefit of all people; and to foster increased cooperation
and exchange of information between governmental authorities and those who utilize caves
located on Federal lands for scientific, education, or recreational purposes. Significant caves on
Federal lands are an invaluable and irreplaceable part of the Nation’s natural heritage (FCRPA
and Forest Service Manual 2880). National Forest System (NFS) lands encompass a broad
diversity of cave and karst resources across 100 National Forests and Grasslands. The NFS
has more than 2,700 significant caves that have been designated to date and it is estimated that
over 7,000 caves exist on NFS lands.

The FS Washington Office – LMG program has maintained a long-term historical relationship
with the National Speleological Society (NSS) with agreements dating back before the FCRPA
of 1988, in sharing expertise and services pertinent to the management of caves and karst
resources. Such expertise is crucial and is frequently not possessed by FS field unit staff. The
NSS—a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the scientific study of caves and
karst—is the largest organized caving group in the United States with over 8,000 members.
The LMG executed a Master Participating Agreement (MPA) with the NSS in 2024 to establish a
national framework upon which the NSS and the FS may cooperatively plan and accomplish
mutually beneficial work projects or activities related to the efficient management of cave and
karst resources. The FS relies on volunteer assistance from members of organizations
interested in cave and karst resources, primarily members of the NSS, to provide manpower
and expertise needed to protect and manage these often fragile and at-risk resources.
Continued or improved management of cave and karst resources on public lands relies on this
type of assistance provided by NSS members throughout the nation. The MPA formalizes this
relationship between the FS and the NSS and increases flexibility to implement joint projects
across the agency.

The NSS has worked with FS units nation-wide to accomplish cave geological resource survey
and mapping work, biological inventory work, cave management, restoration, education and
outreach, and more. The National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) group of the NSS exhibits
the highest standard in the U.S. for cave safety and cave search and rescue. This group works
with our Forests to train Forest staff, local volunteers, and rescue squads on cave safety along
with search and rescue.

The FS has closed public access to caves in some regions owing to the occurrence and spread
of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). In selected cases, the FS has issued permits to the agency’s
NSS partners to access closed caves and allow them to continue to conduct important work.

New partnerships with the NSS at the field level with Forests across the country are ready to
move forward and will reference the national MPA; examples include the White River National
Forest and the National Forests in North Carolina. Grottos wanting to partner with local units
regarding the MPA can reach out to the units’ cave manager to establish a relationship and
implement new Supplemental Project Agreements (SPAs). Through the SPA, units may have
the ability to allocate Federal funds and potentially help grottos with the costs associated with
cave work. Forests with existing partnership agreements with NSS groups include the Daniel
Boone, Tonto, Coconino, Coronado, Tongass, Custer Gallatin, Gifford-Pinchot, Lincoln, and
Black Hills National Forests.


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