Why Are We Called the “Western Cave Conservancy”?

by Marianne Russo

At the International Congress of Speleology (ICS) in 2009, held concurrently with the NSS National Convention, I attended an informal roundtable discussion with several other American cave conservancies. Among many other topics of shared interest the subject of a conservancy’s name, what it means to the founders, and how it is interpreted by those outside of the organization. The WCC was picked as an example of one whose name seemed to far exceed their logical area of influence. This was interpreted to be a potentially negative name choice for the following reason. Most of the eastern cave conservancies have a name which clearly defines the territory they acquire caves in, and for the most part, they do not seem to overlap with other conservancies’ regions. The choice of such a broad and indistinct name like “Western” seemed to some of the attendees to imply that we wanted to be the only conservancy in the West, and were by the choice of that name actively discouraging the creation of any other conservancies in “our” area.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Our goal is to foster, promote, and facilitate cave conservation and protection through any means possible. One outstanding way to do this is to assist other groups of cavers to create local conservancies in their own state or region. However, until there are other conservancies available, we want everyone to feel that there is an organization that they can turn to for help. We can provide help in a variety of ways. For instance we have a board of advisors, many of whom have a wealth of experience in project caving, conservation efforts, cave management, survey, inventory, and science. These folks are linked by email and can provide a lot of useful input on short notice. We have funds which we are willing to use as matching grants for deserving projects such as cave gating, restoration, or inventory. We would be happy to assist local cavers in raising money to purchase a cave and develop their own conservancy organization to own and manage it.

We aren’t just focusing on private land and cavers either. We are currently working with government agencies like the US Forest Service to provide cave management expertise and with the National Park Service to assist with a gating and restoration project by organizing volunteer labor. Throughout the West, agencies such as these own many caves and karst regions. There is seldom enough money or personnel to adequately manage and protect these many resources as they deserve. Western cavers have an outstanding tradition of volunteering to help with these efforts and the WCC organization can now provide additional services that individuals are not really equipped to provide.

Folks, the bottom line is this: Caves are special places, we love them, you love them. We want to see them protected and preserved for their own sake and wherever possible for our appreciation and enjoyment also. Preservation and access are two goals very precious to all of us. It will take everyone’s commitment and cooperation to make sure we protect as much as we can. The Western Cave Conservancy is not about how many caves are under the control of the WCC Board of Directors. It is about promoting the protection of caves in the West in any way possible.