Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

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Should the NSS...

Leave things as is, with the definition of caves up to State Surveys?
15
79%
Create a single standard for the entire US? (if so, what would it be?)
0
No votes
Instruct State Surveys to designate all documented caves as caves
4
21%
 
Total votes : 19

Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby GroundquestMSA » Aug 5, 2014 6:06 pm

Recent discussions in this thread, as well as my own musings, lead me to bring up this tired topic. Surely this issue has been kicked around many, many times but I've not personally heard the pertinent arguments, nor have I seen a Cavechat topic devoted to the subject.

Why has the NSS not defined the word cave? Since state cave surveys are its internal organizations, why can the NSS not provide an official standard for all to follow? I think I know part of the reason; to weed out lesser karst features in cave-rich states, thus making the job of documentation a little easier, while still allowing other states to claim their little holes as caves. This is an illogical argument though, since many "karst features" or "FRO's" make the database anyway. If you're going to document them, why use a separate designation? I wrote, in the introduction of my monograph on local caves,

"...What is a cave? The answer depends on where you are and who you ask. Many definitions have been suggested, some requiring that the cave have a true dark zone, some only requiring that the cave be "large enough for a person to enter," or "feel cavey." State Cave Surveys often set minimum limits for eligibility based on length or depth. All of these definitions are imperfect and arbitrary, sometimes contradictory. For example, in a tight, sinuous cave, complete darkness may be reached in a matter of 20 or 30 feet, while a cave with a massive entrance, and 500 feet of large passage may contain no true dark zone. The definition set forth in the Federal Cave Protection Act of 1988 reads in part; "...any naturally occurring void, cavity, recess, or system of interconnected passages which occurs beneath the surface of the earth or within a cliff or ledge (including any cave resource therein, but not including any vug, mine, tunnel, aqueduct, or other manmade excavation) and which is large enough to permit an individual to enter, whether or not the entrance is naturally formed or manmade. Such term shall include any natural pit, sinkhole, or other feature which is an extension of the entrance." This politically influenced definition is problematic since it includes far too many features to realistically document. Practically then, each person or entity must define what a cave is depending on their own purposes and surroundings..."

And that is exactly what I would propose the NSS suggest to its Surveys. Throw out all length/depth requirements. Let the cavers define the caves. If they feel it's worth documenting, then call it a cave. Some of the rules are clearly absurd. Marion Smith tells me that in TN, a 30' pit is a cave, but a horizontal cave must be 50' long! Why are we making distinctions based on the orientation of the passage? At what degree of inclination can a 35'-hole-in-the-ground go from sad limbo to blessed cavehood? I cannot see any reason not to abandon these rules. Can you?
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby batrotter » Aug 6, 2014 4:34 am

It is an interesting topic. The Indiana Cave Survey defines a cave as being 25 feet long or deep.

A number of ICS members did a cave inventory in the Hoosier National Forest. The US Forest Service defines a cave as anything big enough for a human to enter. So the USFS says a 3 foot diameter hole is a cave.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby Caving Guru » Aug 6, 2014 6:57 am

batrotter wrote:It is an interesting topic. The Indiana Cave Survey defines a cave as being 25 feet long or deep.

A number of ICS members did a cave inventory in the Hoosier National Forest. The US Forest Service defines a cave as anything big enough for a human to enter. So the USFS says a 3 foot diameter hole is a cave.


How the US Forest Service defines a cave (anything big enough for a human to enter) is how I define a cave.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby Squirrel Girl » Aug 6, 2014 7:00 am

I think the NPS says a cave must be 50' long (or deep). Anything smaller is a "karst feature."
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby Caving Guru » Aug 6, 2014 7:03 am

Squirrel Girl wrote:I think the NPS says a cave must be 50' long (or deep). Anything smaller is a "karst feature."


The National Park Service and the US Forest Service are two separate entities. I don't know if you are mixing the two up or you just feel like stating what the National Park Service's definition of a cave is.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby caver.adam » Aug 6, 2014 8:00 am

The word originally came from the Latin "cavea" which meant a hollow [place].

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=cave&searchmode=none
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby Bumbalawski » Aug 6, 2014 8:13 am

The definition for Maryland is this: "In Maryland, a cave is defined as any subterranean cavity large enough for a human to enter". Back when this definition was establish, Maryland cavers were rather desperate for caves. We used to jokingly say, "if your head sticks out one end and your feet sticks out the other end, you have a cave". Cave finds have greatly changed in western Maryland in the past couple of years to make the last statement obsolete.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby trogman » Aug 6, 2014 9:35 am

I haven't voted in your poll (yet), because I find myself squarely on the fence on this question. I did delve somewhat into the same topic a few years back (http://www.forums.caves.org/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=8813), mainly because at that time we in the ACS were having a rather heated debate about how to define a "cave." I was one of the strong proponents of re-writing the definition, mainly because the word "length" was interpreted in various ways. Like you, I find the TN standards to be pretty ridiculous; why they chose to give greater recognition to pits than horizontal caves is beyond me. In AL we ended up with a revised definition that basically defined a cave as any natural cavity with a length greater than 50'. Then the definition clarifies that "length" refers to length in any direction; vertical, horizontal, or inclined. What it boiled down to was that the length of the cave is whatever distance a caver goes in order to pass through every part of the cave.
I do feel like there should be a cutoff point so that a standard exists. In AL, it is 50', in GA, it is 30'. Anything less than that is a karst feature, but even KFs should have some sort of minimum requirements. My own personal requirement is that a KF has to be large enough for an average sized person to enter. I know that's a bit arbitrary, but it weeds out tiny little holes that are too insignificant and too many to try and catalog.

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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby LukeM » Aug 6, 2014 11:35 am

It seems a bit odd to me that there are "karst features" that you can go "caving" in. Colloquially, everyone would say they went in a cave if the walked or crawled through a 49' natural cavity. Why should the definition be changed to artificially limit the count?
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby trogman » Aug 6, 2014 12:30 pm

LukeM wrote:It seems a bit odd to me that there are "karst features" that you can go "caving" in. Colloquially, everyone would say they went in a cave if the walked or crawled through a 49' natural cavity. Why should the definition be changed to artificially limit the count?


I understand your meaning, as it does seem a bit odd. Let me try to explain it with this example: We define an "adult" as someone who has reached their 18th birthday (or 21st, when it comes to consuming alcohol). There are many young people who are very much adult when they are 16 or 17, and some who still lack maturity at 25. When someone reaches midnight and turns 18, they don't suddenly become any more adult than they were a minute earlier. Whenever we seek to classify things, whether it be holes in the ground or people or whatever, we have to have some sort of an arbitrary cutoff point. In terms of caves, if you had no size requirements designated, then I could find a 2' deep hole and call it a cave. Then our state cave surveys would have to catalog a gazillion little holes. Yes, the 50' minimum is an arbitrary number, but it is one that the vast majority of our membership agreed to. There were some who thought the standard should be even tighter than that.

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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby LukeM » Aug 6, 2014 12:45 pm

I realize that these arguments have probably been beaten to death many times over already and therefore we're probably just playing Monday morning quarterback here. I also realize that I probably have a very different perspective being from the Northeast where even a small cave is worth noting.

Personally I would think that a good starting point for a discussion of a cutoff would be "anything a caver would see it as worthwhile to enter bodily". From there we could debate what that might be, but I think your average caver would want to explore/check out/investigate a 40', 30' or even 20' natural cavity if they happened to already be there. They wouldn't call it a karst feature when explaining it to friends, and they would certainly want to record that it exists, if only in their notes. Pits I think are trickier, but if I'm heading bodily past the drip line with a light on my head I'm in a cave and my caving peers would recognize it as such.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby LukeM » Aug 6, 2014 1:07 pm

I guess what I'm saying is that if there's a feature that everyone in your regional caving community would call a "cave" but it doesn't qualify to go on your state's list of "caves" that's kind of weird.

In your example Trogman that would be like everyone calling 18 year olds adults and treating them as such but when everyone sits down to decide what an adult is by law they choose 30. No one would call a 2' deep hole a cave so that's irrelevant.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby trogman » Aug 6, 2014 1:29 pm

LukeM wrote:I guess what I'm saying is that if there's a feature that everyone in your regional caving community would call a "cave" but it doesn't qualify to go on your state's list of "caves" that's kind of weird.

In your example Trogman that would be like everyone calling 18 year olds adults and treating them as such but when everyone sits down to decide what an adult is by law they choose 30. No one would call a 2' deep hole a cave so that's irrelevant.


I mentioned the 2' deep hole as an extreme example; it could have been a 6' deep hole, or 10' deep. You get the point. I agree it's irrelevant, but it sounds like you also think there should be a cutoff point somewhere. We in AL decided it would be 50', whereas other states went with lower numbers. One thing I am sure of: if suddenly we tried to change it to 30', after it being 50 for so long, it would never pass a vote of the membership. So I suppose what people in my region (AL) call caves are anything more than 50'. Anything less than that is just a karst feature. :big grin:

Hmmm.... I think I find myself leaning toward voting for that first choice on the poll.

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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby GroundquestMSA » Aug 6, 2014 1:38 pm

trogman wrote: In terms of caves, if you had no size requirements designated, then I could find a 2' deep hole and call it a cave. Then our state cave surveys would have to catalog a gazillion little holes.


No they wouldn't. That's the basis of my argument. If all length requirements were thrown out, we wouldn't have a bunch of cavers desperately scrambling to document 7' deep vugs in the cliff face. State Surveys have no responsibility to document 7' deep holes in the cliff face, no matter what they're called. It is the perceptions and judgment of the discoverer that defines the discovery. If I found a 10'-long cave, blasting air, in a prime geologic setting, I would want to document it, even if I didn't have the resources to excavate it. When I find a body-sized hollow in a pitted cliff face, I feel no need to document it, or call it a cave, so I don't. Like Luke, I say that if someone would call it a cave in conversation, it's a cave.

You're absolutely right trogman, cutoffs are arbitrary and imperfect. Since that's the case, why use them when we don't need to? Virtually all of the same things will be documented, maybe a few more, only under a single, more sensible name.
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Re: Cave length/depth requirements: Poll

Postby trogman » Aug 7, 2014 9:17 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:
trogman wrote: In terms of caves, if you had no size requirements designated, then I could find a 2' deep hole and call it a cave. Then our state cave surveys would have to catalog a gazillion little holes.


No they wouldn't. That's the basis of my argument. If all length requirements were thrown out, we wouldn't have a bunch of cavers desperately scrambling to document 7' deep vugs in the cliff face. State Surveys have no responsibility to document 7' deep holes in the cliff face, no matter what they're called. It is the perceptions and judgment of the discoverer that defines the discovery. If I found a 10'-long cave, blasting air, in a prime geologic setting, I would want to document it, even if I didn't have the resources to excavate it. When I find a body-sized hollow in a pitted cliff face, I feel no need to document it, or call it a cave, so I don't. Like Luke, I say that if someone would call it a cave in conversation, it's a cave.

You're absolutely right trogman, cutoffs are arbitrary and imperfect. Since that's the case, why use them when we don't need to? Virtually all of the same things will be documented, maybe a few more, only under a single, more sensible name.


Why use minimum standards? Because we document caves and establish cave surveys, at least in part, for scientific purposes.There is nothing scientific about "if someone would call it a cave in conversation, it's a cave." That will vary widely from one person to the next. At least with a minimum standard, you have something at least somewhat reliable and repeatable to go by. What someone calls it in conversation is also a product of learning and habit. Here in AL, we have learned that anything less than 50' is not a cave; in other states it is looked at differently. So if it is less than 50', we don't call it a cave.

Definitions must have parameters that clearly spell out what is being defined. Using a definition of "if I feel like it meets the definition, then it does" is nonsensical.

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