No More Cave Parties: New Rules Propose for Oregon Forests

Imagine the pristine natural beauty of Oregon’s many cave systems: tunnels carved deep into the earth, walls untouched by the sun being lit by lamplight, rave music, half-empty beer bottles, dog poop, graffiti, and needles of unknown origin.  

Wait – we’ve mixed our “natural beauty” list up with the one about “ecologically damaging acts of hedonism.” These bits of waste are an increasingly common sight in Oregon’s caves, and are more than just an eyesore.  

“There are caves that have unfortunately become what amounts to a party cave,” said Kassidy Kern, spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest. “As you can imagine, these caves are sensitive environments.”  

According to Kern, parties held in (illegally) held within the caves not only damage the geological formations themselves, but also upset the delicate ecosystems living inside.  

New rules proposed: This environmental damage has led to the Deschutes National Forest Administration proposing a new set of rules concerning what’s allowed in and around Oregon’s cave systems.  

The proposal calls for a “streamlined Cave Resource Protection Forest Order” and is intended to revamp the current laws which protect the roughly 700 caves managed by the DNF. Among the new rules are restrictions which disallow lighting fires, playing music, and disposing of animal waste (read, baggies of dog poop) inside or around the cave. These activities will be restricted within 200 ft. of the cave entrance.  

Additionally, the proposed restrictions would result in a year-round closure for Skeleton Cave and extend existing closures at other places. This is done in order to protect the animals living within these cave systems, namely bats.  

“We want people to continue to explore these caves, but we want them to also recognize that they are visitors to these caves,” said Kern.  

Kern stated that the DNF doesn’t expect much resistance to the proposal, though some have expressed concern that the restrictions will lead to the caves being increasingly closed off to the public over time.  

One thing’s for certain: the underground music scene will never be the same.  

If you’d like to weigh in on the situation, the public comment period is open up until April 2. Comments can be submitted by email to comments-pacificnorthwest-deschutes@usda.gov, or by mail to: Holly Jewkes (Forest Supervisor), Deschutes National Forest, ℅ Sasha Fertig, 63095 Deschutes Market Road, Bend, OR 97701.  

For further reading, the Oregonian’s Jamie Hale covers the proposed restrictions, along with offering resources that can help aspiring spelunkers explore responsibly.  

By Thomas Nguyen