On the NPCA and its Global Efforts
by William Jones
The National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice and advocate for National Parks domestically and abroad since its inception in 1919. The organization has tasked itself with the coverage of issues surrounding parks, advances in conservation, and the activities associated with exploration and recreation in these areas. The United States maintains 59 National Parks today, but these parks represent a small percentage of the total national park sites. There are another 358 unique U.S. national park sites that don’t specifically fit the bill of “national park.” That number becomes even smaller when compared with the total number of internationally designated national parks, which stands at 5400. Currently, 245 nations and regions maintain national parks, with global protected areas exceeding 234,000.
The story of national parks is not just of U.S. endeavors to preserve lands and waters for wildlife or the visceral enjoyment of humans. It encompasses the global effort to accomplish these goals respectively, the building of knowledge from those efforts, and the connections that have been made between us and those abroad to help preserve, build, and restore a more natural world together. The global legacy of national parks are protected areas. They are delineated by nations which recognize the ecological, cultural, or natural value of the areas that are chosen for designation. The leading international organization on the designation of protected areas is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , which lists several categories that protected areas may receive. Of the seven IUCN Categories for protected areas, national parks are listed under Category (II). Through the IUCN’s collaboration with the UN Environment, governments and academia, the World Database on Protected Areas was created and now informs planning, policy decisions, and management. This data set is, perhaps, one of the greatest conservation tools to date, and was made possible because of the recognition that there is an inherent connection between not just ecosystems but also between the people seeking to expand and preserve protected areas.
Under the Department of the Interior, the U.S. National Park Service has an established international affairs division. There are 62 sister parks relationships that are maintained ranging from South America to East Asia. Five of the many international parks that have been featured in the NPCA Magazine are sister parks of the U.S. National Parks. These relations serve an important role, as they offer the opportunity to gain insight into ecological management, social inequity, and economic initiative. In all, the NPCA Magazine has covered 92 parks across 32 countries in detail.
The NPCA has the capacity to do much more with regard to the coverage of international parks and relaying the importance of protected areas. With a readership exceeding 400,000, the ability to influence and inform the minds of members should not solely focus on domestic issues. Thanks in part to scientific monitoring and advance, we are much more able to recognize the impacts that actions by those abroad can have on our own environment. Conservation is a global field, and it is time that it is treated as such so that we might not be as self-concerned as we are.