Ex-rangers ride to the rescue of the world's national parks
Retired U.S. National Park Service workers formed Global Parks to share their expertise abroad.
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The need wasn't always so pronounced. Beginning in the 1960s, managers from non-US protected areas visited iconic American parks through a program called the International Seminar on National Parks and Equivalent Reserves. Michael Soukup, a former associate director for natural-resource stewardship and science at the NPS, recalls that the seminar helped attendees absorb firsthand lessons from the American system.Skip to next paragraph
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But the seminar was disbanded in the early 1990s for "financial and other reasons," says Mr. Soukup, now a Global Parks board member.
Today, budgetary belt-tightening has forced the NPS over the past decade to "de-emphasize" international partnerships, he says.
Soukup and Koenings insist that Global Parks won't usurp tasks currently handled by the NPS. However, they criticize a perceived lack of connections between the 94-year-old federal agency and the international conservation community. Koenings says Global Parks could "reinvigorate" the park service's Office of International Affairs.
Stephen Morris, chief of the OIA, says the relationship between his office and Global Parks will be collaborative. Echoing a Jan. 7, 2010, letter from NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis to Koenings, Mr. Morris told The Christian Science Monitor that Global Parks could assist the OIA by providing long-term support for international projects.
According to Morris, the OIA operates on less than $900,000 annually and received a $100,000 budget cut in 2003. In a phone interview, he said the office currently uses retirees for projects on an "ad hoc basis." A working partnership with Global Parks, Morris speculated, would help all parties "get more done."
There is plenty to do, notes Jamison Ervin, a Vermont-based consultant who manages a United Nations Development Program project on protected areas. Ms. Ervin, who travels the world advising conservation professionals, says protected areas are crucial because they preserve biodiversity and help humans adapt to climate change and food insecurity.
Like Koenings of Global Parks, Ervin criticizes US conservation policies. Noting that the United States is one of only two nations – the other is Andorra – that is not a party to the 2003 Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty advocating social equity and sustainable development, she called the past 10 years a "lost decade" for US engagement with international conservation issues.
"We created the idea of national parks," Ervin says, "but we've lost tremendous opportunities to share the learning that we've done over the last 150 years. Countries are increasing their protected areas, and in many cases, they don't have the capacity to manage what they've created."
Adapting to new Chinese ecotourists
Ervin says Global Parks could be a resource for China, where, according to China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, industrialization and urbanization pose "serious threats" to biodiversity.
Nature reserves now make up 15.2 percent of China's land area. In 2008, China's State Forestry Administration designated Yunnan a pilot province for a nascent national-park network.
But, says Yang Fang of the Yunnan National Park Management Office, managers at Yunnan parks and nature reserves struggle to balance conservation, scientific research, and ecotourism with the needs of people who live inside protected areas and concessionaires who profit from protected-area resources.