Milestones of Missouri's Hidden Hollows
1.25 million acres contains hundreds of caves, but it would be decades before true cave resource management would begin on the forest.
"When I started with the U. S. Forest Service 30 years ago," says Jerry Gott, a recently retired cave management specialist for the MTNF, "there was little emphasis or resource attention given to the management of caves. Thanks to some laws related to endangered species, caves as an environment for these species have gotten the public's attention. With the passage of the 1988 U.S. Cave Resource Protection Act, the Forest Service is now much more involved in cave management than in the past."
In the 1960s, Congress established the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Dent, Shannon and Carter counties, and the Eleven Point National Scenic River in Oregon County. The National Park Service soon discovered there were hundreds of caves on these properties in need of special attention.
Also in the 1960s, a long standing tradition of fierce competition between the many show caves of Missouri ended when they joined together to form the Missouri Caves Association. It became apparent to them that since no two caves are really alike, it was better to work together to reach their mutual audience than to compete.
In the 1970s, the Conservation Department, influenced by endangered species laws, began acquiring numerous tracts of land to preserve forest and wildlife resources and protect threatened and endangered species. In some instances the Conservation Department has specifically targeted cave resources used by the Ozark cavefish and endangered species of bats.
With government agencies acquiring significant karst areas of the state, an imperative was born to protect and manage cave resources with conservation and preservation in mind.
Conservationists discovered that Missouri caves were home to rare and delicate life forms, contained invaluable prehistoric human and extinct ice age animal materials, were ornamented with beautiful, unique, fragile cave formations, contained vast reservoirs of water and were sensitive components of the major spring systems and groundwater aquifers of the Ozarks.
The Missouri Cave Resources Act was passed in 1980. It protects caves by prohibiting vandalism of any type and recognizes the value of caves. It also maintains the right of private cave owners to manage or use their caves, as they see fit. The law also helps protect the quality of Missouri's groundwater by prohibiting the use of a cave or spring for sewage disposal or other pollution-causing activities.
In the late 1970s, DNR's Division