World Commission on Protected Areas

WCPA North America

Rampart Mountains in Jasper National Park, Canada

Mike Wong, IUCN WCPA Regional Vice Chair North AmericaIUCN WCPA Regional Vice-Chair North America

Mike WONG


Countries of the Region
Canada, Mexico and USA  

Programme

The North American region extends from the Canadian arctic in the north to the tropical forests of Mexico in the south, and surrounded by three oceans. It has more than 34,000 terrestrial and marine protected areas comprising pristine wilderness areas, national, state, territorial and provincial parks, and community and indigenous conserved areas. It includes Yellowstone National Park of the United States of America and Banff National Park of Canada, the first national parks in the world, established in 1872 and 1885, respectively. These protected areas conserve biodiversity and provide unique experiences for visitors, as well as many essential ecological, social, and economic benefits. 

According to the 2014 Protected Planet report, the three countries of Canada, Mexico and United States protect 10% (971,589 km2), 15% (316,047 km2) and 26% (2,565,884 km2) of their land and marine areas, respectively. http://www.protectedplanet.net/

The North America region has over 500 active WCPA members with diverse leadership skills and knowledge. They include terrestrial and marine protected area managers, government and indigenous leaders, scientists, academics, tourism experts, ecologists, resource users, private land owners, and young professionals. 

The priorities for the North America programme, a subset of the issues highlighted in the World Parks Congress’ Promise of Sydney, include:

  • enhancing the relevance of protected areas;
  • promoting efforts and strategies for achieving the Aichi targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity;
  • raising awareness and mainstreaming protected areas as a natural solution to climate change impacts; and
  • connecting people to nature through protected area programs.

Key Issues

The North America region has been in the forefront in promoting a culture of conservation that embraces the value of protected areas in conserving and presenting representative examples the country’s natural and cultural heritage for present and future generation’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment. The first decade of the 21st Century has seen a substantial growth in protected areas and there is potential for more growth in the coming years. Yet, as highlighted in the World Parks Congress’ Promise of Sydney, most of these protected areas are facing increasing threats from global, regional and local sources. These include climate change, invasive species, pollution, wildlife diseases, fragmented habitats, and changing land uses. In addition, our changing society is becoming more urban, diverse, and technologically oriented, and the population is increasingly disconnected from nature due to changing lifestyles, value systems, leisure patterns and economic trends.

Stemming from these challenges, the main issues in the region include:

Mexican CaribbeanEnhancing the Relevance of Protected Areas: Besides being the cornerstone for biodiversity conservation and sustainable tourism, protected areas in the region are conserving the natural and cultural resources that are essential to societal well-being, including human health, ecosystem services, water and food security, and disaster and risk prevention, among others. For many communities, protected areas have become the foundation for sustainable livelihoods, providing a broad range of ecological and socioeconomic benefits. Efforts will be made to improve the awareness and understanding of protected areas’ many values, and to integrate this knowledge in planning and decision making.

Communicating this information will help create collective recognition of the benefits of protected areas and the value of the services they provide - fundamental to inspiring broad-based support, engagement and stewardship.

Promoting Efforts and Strategies for Achieving the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity: At present, protected areas do not adequately represent all ecosystems, habitats and species important for conservation in the North American region. This is especially the case for the marine environment, which is significantly underrepresented. Further, many protected areas are beset with internal and external influences that are undermining their capacity to effectively conserve the resources they were established to protect. Reducing the loss of biodiversity in the region will require heightened efforts and resources in areas such as establishment of new protected areas and expansion of existing ones to increase ecological representation; ecological restoration of degraded areas; increasing connectivity between protected areas; and minimizing anthropogenic pressures. Other strategies include improving management effectiveness.

Raising Awareness and Mainstreaming Protected Areas as a Natural Solution to Climate Change: North American ecosystems and human communities are already experiencing the negative influences of climate change, and protected areas have an important role to play in helping them to adapt and mitigate these impacts. Protected areas are themselves experiencing unprecedented challenges from climate change, which are undermining their ability to cope with other stressors. Many efforts at different spatial scales have been initiated to increase the resiliency of protected areas to climate change impacts. Among these is an agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico to work together to protect wilderness areas across North America. Signed in 2009, this region-wide strategy incorporates a larger climate change adaptation agenda. Recently, Mexico and 17 other Latin American countries signed a declaration which was tabled at the December 2015, Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Paris, France, calling for the inclusion of protected areas in future global climate strategies. The sharing of lessons learned and best practises from on-going initiatives such as these will be an important strategy for increasing the tools available to managers and other partners. Opportunities for efficiently disseminating this information to global protected area partners outside the region will be sought, and where possible, build capacity for implementation.

Connecting People to Nature Through Protected Areas Programs: Protected areas are strategic avenues for connecting people with nature due to the great range of values and benefits they provide to diverse communities in the region. Engaging citizens, particularly the youth, families, immigrant communities and people living in urban centres to nature will be instrumental in raising societal appreciation of the role and significance of protected areas, and the need to protect them. In addition, protected area professionals will be encouraged to use creative ways to work with non-traditional partners in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, health and industry and create awareness of the need to reducing their impacts on biodiversity and protected areas, and to use environmentally sustainable practises for their own good and for the good of the local, regional and global communities. These efforts will build on the region’s track record of developing successful collaborative approaches for establishing, governing and managing protected areas. Today, some of the world’s most progressive partnership policies, governance principles and programs for managing protected areas in collaboration with local people and indigenous communities have been implemented in the region. Promoting, strengthening and expanding these partnerships will remain a critical component for the North American program.

To effectively address the region’s priorities, the capacity of protected area agencies and managers will need to be increased, strengthened and broadened. Also needed are more specialized knowledge, skills, competences and tools to adequately communicate and address the increasingly complex challenges required for managing protected areas in a rapidly changing world. Whenever possible, the region will learn from the innovative solutions and extend capacity-building support to other areas, particularly in the developing countries.

During the next four years, with the Promise of Sydney as the basis, WCPA members in the region will use different forums, conferences, and networks to promote the values of protected areas, share best practices and modern tools to strengthen protected areas establishment and management, to encourage public policies that enhance the sustainability of protected areas, and to inspire the next generation of stewards. Other activities will include collating and sharing information on economic valuation of protected areas, determining the range of nature-based solutions that are being implemented in the region, communicating and promoting the successes of case studies of nature-based solutions to a wider audience, and working with members to align the thematic, specialist and task groups into an integrated structure, that is linked to the larger global WCPA network.

Cumbres de Monterrey Biosphere Reserve, Mexico, protected areas

Selected references:

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