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Mid-Appalachian Region of
the National Speleological Society


Virginia Cave Protection Act

Reprinted from the 1985 Code of Virginia 1950, pages 229-232.

10-150.11 Legislative findings and policy

The General assembly hereby finds that caves are uncommon geologic phenomena, and that the minerals deposited therein may be rare and occur in unique forms of great beauty which are irreplaceable if destroyed. Also irreplaceable are the archaeological resources in caves which are of great scientific and historic value. It is further found that the organisms which live in caves are unusual and of limited numbers, that many are rare and endangered species; and that caves are a natural conduit for groundwater flow and are highly subject to water pollution, thus having far- reaching effects transcending man's property boundaries. It is therefor declared to be the policy of the General Assembly and the intent of this chapter to protect these unique natural and cultural resources. (1979, c.252)

10-150.12 Definitions

As used in this chapter, the following words shall have the meanings stated unless the context requires otherwise:

A. "Cave" means any naturally occurring void, cavity, recess, or system of interconnecting passages beneath the surface of the earth or within a cliff or ledge including natural subsurface water and drainage systems, but not including any mine, tunnel, aqueduct, or other man-made excavation, which is large enough to permit a person to enter. The term "cave" includes or is synonymous with cavern, sinkhole, natural pit, grotto, and rock shelter.

B. "Commercial cave" means any cave utilized by the owner for the purposes of exhibition to the general public as a profit or non-profit enterprise, wherein a fee is collected for entry.

C. "Gate" means any structure or device located to limit or prohibit access or entry to any cave.

D. "Sinkhole" means a closed topographic depression or basin, generally draining underground, including, but not restricted to, a doline, uvala, blind valley, or sink.

E. "Person" or "persons" means any individual, partnership, firm, association, trust or corporation or other legal entity.

F. "Owner" means a person who owns title to land where a cave is located, including a person who owns title to a leasehold estate in such land, and specifically including the Commonwealth and any of its agencies, departments, boards, bureaus, commissions or authorities, as well as counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions of the Commonwealth.

G. "Speleothem" means A natural mineral formation or deposit occurring in a cave. The term includes, or is synonymous with, stalagmite, stalactite, helectite, shield, anthodite, gypsum flower and needle, angel's hair, soda straw, drapery, bacon, cave pearl, popcorn (coral), rimstone dam, column, palette, flowstone, et cetera. Speleothems are commonly composed of calcite, epsomite, gypsum, aragonite, celestite and other similar minerals.

H. "Speleogen" means an erosional feature of the cave boundary and includes or is synonymous with anastomoses, scallops, rills, flutes, spongework, and pendants.

I. "Material" means all or any part of any archeological, paleontological, biological or historical item including but not limited to, any petroglyph, pictograph, basketry, human remains, tool, beads, pottery, projectile point, remains of historical mining activity or any other occupation, found in a cave.

J. "Cave life" means any life form which normally occurs in, uses, visits or inhabits any cave or subterranean water system, excepting those animals and species covered by any of the game laws of the Commonwealth. (1979, c.252)

10-150.13 Vandalism; penalties

A. It shall be unlawful for any person, without express, prior, written permission of the owner, to:

    (1). Break, break off, crack, carve upon, write, burn, or otherwise mark upon, remove, or in any manner destroy, disturb, deface, mar or harm the surfaces of any cave or any natural material which may be found therein, whether attached or broken, including speleothems, speleogens, and sedimentary deposits. The provision of this section shall not prohibit minimal disturbance for scientific exploration.

    (2). Break, force, tamper with, or otherwise disturb a lock, gate, door, or other obstruction designed to control or prevent access to any cave, even though entrance thereto may not be gained.

    (3). Remove, deface, tamper with a sign stating that a cave is posted or citing provisions of this chapter.

    (4). Excavate, remove, destroy, injure, deface, or in any manner disturb any burial grounds, historic or prehistoric resources, archeological or paleontological site or any part thereof, including relics, inscriptions, saltpeter workings, fossils, bones, remains of historical human activity, or any other such features which may be found in any cave, except those caves owned by the Commonwealth or designated as Commonwealth archaeological sites or zones, and which are subject to the provisions of the Virginia Antiquities Act (10-150.1 et seq.).

B. The entering and remaining in a cave which has not been posted by the owner shall not by itself constitute a violation of this section.

C. Any violation of this section shall be punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

D. The provision of this section shall not apply to an owner of a cave on his own property.

10-150.14 Pollution; penalties

A. It shall be unlawful for any person, without express, prior, written permission of the owner, to store, dump, litter, dispose of or otherwise place any refuse, garbage, dead animals, sewage, or toxic substances harmful to cave life or humans, in any cave or sinkhole. It shall also be unlawful to burn within a cave or sinkhole any material which produces any smoke or gas which is harmful to any naturally occurring organism in any cave.

B. Any violation of this section shall be punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor. (1979, c. 252; 1982, c.81.)

10-150.15 Disturbance of naturally occurring organisms; scientific collecting permits; penalties

A. It shall be unlawful to remove, kill, harm, or otherwise disturb any naturally occurring organisms within any cave, except for safety or health reasons; provided, however, scientific collecting permits may be obtained from any cave commission established for such purpose or from the appropriate state agency.

B. Any violation of this section shall be punished as a Class 3 misdemeanor. (1979, c. 252.)

10-150.16 Archaeology; permits for excavation; how obtained; penalties

A. (Repealed.)

B. In addition to the written permission of the owner required by 10.150.13 of this Code, a person must also obtain a permit from the Department of Conservation and Historic Resources prior to excavating or removing any archaeological, paleontological, prehistoric, or historic feature of any cave. The Department shall issue a permit to excavate or remove such a feature if it finds that it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth and that the applicant meets the criteria of this section and is an historic, scientific, or educational institution, professional archaeologist or amateur, who is qualified and recognized in the areas of field investigations or archaeology. The permit shall be renewed upon expiration. Such permit shall not be transferable; however, the provision of this section shall not preclude any person from working under the direct supervision of the permittee.

C. All field investigations, explorations, or recovery operations undertaken under this section shall be carried out under the general supervision of the Department of Conservation and Historic Resources and in a manner to ensure that the maximum amount of historic, scientific, archaeologic, and educational information may be recovered and preserved in addition to the physical recovery of objects.

D. A person applying for a permit pursuant to this section shall:

    (1). Have knowledge of archaeology or history as qualified in subsection B hereof.

    (2). Provide a detailed statement to the Department giving the reasons and objectives for excavation or removal and the benefits to be obtained from the contemplated work.

    (3). Provide data and results of any completed excavation, study, or collection at the first of each calendar year.

    (4). Obtain the prior written permission of the owner if the site of the proposed excavation is on privately owned land.

    (5). Carry the permit while exercising the privileges granted.

E. Any person who fails to obtain a permit required under subsection B hereof shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Any violation of subsection D hereof shall be punished as a Class 3 misdemeanor, and the permit shall be revoked.

F. The provision of this section shall not apply to any person in any cave located on his own property. (1979, c. 252; 1982, c. 81; 1984, c. 750.)

10-150.17 Sale of Speleothems; penalties

It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale any speleothems in this Commonwealth, or to export them for sale outside the Commonwealth. Any violation of this section shall be punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor. (1979, c. 252; 1982, c. 81.)

10-150.18 Liability of owners and agents limited; sovereign immunity of Commonwealth not waived.

Neither the owner of a cave or his authorized agents acting within the scope of their authority are liable for injuries sustained by any person using the cave for recreational or scientific purposes if no charge has been made for the use of the cave, notwithstanding that an inquiry as to the experience or expertise of the individual seeking consent may have been made.

Nothing in this section shall be construed to constitute a waiver of the sovereign immunity of the Commonwealth or any of its boards, departments, bureaus, or agencies. (1979, c. 252.)

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