World Commission on Protected Areas


The IUCN WCPA Mountains Specialist Group facilitates the enhanced conservation, effective management and adequate protection of mountain protected areas in one of the Earth’s most important biomes. This includes their biodiversity, cultural, social and economic values.
Specialist Group Leader

Peter Jacobs

Co-chairs: Linda McMillan, Patrizia Rossi, Fausto Sarmiento, Mike Tollefson and Gillian Anderson​
Senior Advisor: Graeme Worboys 

IUCN WCPA Mountains Specialist Group TOR 2017-2020

Mountains Specialist Group and network

The mountains of the world provide essential ecosystem based services to global communities as well as inspiration and enjoyment to millions.

Mountain areas cover 26.5% of the world’s total continental land surface.  Of the world’s 237 countries, 197 include mountains. Mountains are particularly important for their biodiversity, water, clean air, research, cultural diversity, leisure, landscape and spiritual values. They are income sources for communities through agriculture, tourism and use of natural resources and important for minimisation of natural hazards and early warning systems.  

Mountainous formations also occur across considerable areas of the ocean floor.   These important and diverse underwater mountain ranges and islands constitute a large portion of the mountainous surface of the planet. 

Mountain areas hold a vast variety of life forms due to their local breadth of physical conditions related to altitude and slope. They include astonishing biodiversity in terms of number of taxa and endemicity and make up half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Mountains occur in 88% of the World’s 821 terrestrial ecoregions.

The rich cultural diversity of mountains is well known. Isolation by rugged topographic barriers has contributed to this and remoteness has kept many cultures relatively intact. Mountains are part of societal metageographies that help promote and define a sense of identity that is not dependent only on isolation, but also in communal protection, reciprocal efforts and wider exchanges of animals and plant species.  In the Zomia region of mountainous South-east Asia, many ethnic minorities have retrained their cultures and operate with little State control or influence. 

Mountains are also the source of inspiration of revolutions and theories that have changed the word, from Moses, Budha, Jesus to Bolivar, Napoleon or the Gran Khan.  So, whether metaphorical or not, mountain imaginaries have defined present civilization.

Many mountains are sacred or of great cultural significance requiring sensitive management and total involvement of local and indigenous people in planning, decision making and interpretation.


As the challenges of the 21st century present themselves as a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services, mountains and mountain communities will need to build ecological resistance and resilience to cope. Many communities and societies rely heavily on healthy mountainous areas for their well-being.  Mountains are at the forefront of change due to the early and (along with coastal areas) probably the most profound manifestation of the impact of climate change.  Protecting important sites for mountain biodiversity is vital for ensuring long term and sustainable use of mountain natural resources and to build resilience; however the current level of protection is relatively low.

Mountain Protected Areas

The world’s system of protected areas includes many outstanding places within the earth’s mountainous landscape.  Outside Antarctica, about 17% of mountain areas are protected representing 32.4% of the extent of the world’s terrestrial protected areas; nevertheless there are mountain areas of significance that are not adequately protected when considered at country, biogeographic realm, biome and ecoregion scales.  For example, of over 4,000 Key Biodiversity Areas in Mountains only 20% are completely and formally protected, although there may be “other effective area-based conservation measures” in place in the areas listed as non-protected.

There may be many reasons for their non-protection such as conflicts over resource use, cultural and community issues, political tensions, lack of appropriate statute or lack of appreciation of values. Poor protection of mountains at the site and ecoregion scale is of concern given their importance for biodiversity, the other ecosystem services they provide and their vulnerability to global change.

The Mountains Specialist Group and Network

The Mountains Specialist Group contains over 400 WCPA members in over 60 countries and includes protected area managers, mountain specialists, researchers, recreation groups and others committed to the conservation and protection of mountain protected areas.

For 25 years the Mountain Specialist Group has worked collaboratively to organise many workshops and produce or contribute to publications about the latest trends in mountain protected area management. The Mountains SG has generated best practice guidance for IUCN WCPA and encouraged the establishment of new protected areas in mountain environments.

The quarterly Mountain Protected Areas Update has recently produced its 90th edition.

What is the Mountains Specialist Group doing?

In alignment with the WCPA “Promise of Sydney” our current activity includes:

  • Mountain Protected Area coverage

In collaboration with UNEP WCMC and other WCPA technical experts, we are working on a report that will identify priority mountain areas for biodiversity conservation (with special emphasis on Key Biodiversity Areas) that are currently unprotected or don’t have “other effective area-based conservation measures”.  Select priority areas will be identified for Mountains Specialist Group facilitation action to encourage the establishment of new mountain protected areas. 

  • Capacity building

The Mountains Specialist Group is identifying actions around challenges of the 21st Century by hosting events such as workshops and knowledge cafes on Mountain Protected Areas at relevant meetings and congresses. We will manage and grow the Mountains network and promote participation and interactive involvement. We will be identifying exemplars of best practice mountain protected area management in collaboration with IUCN WCPA’s Green List programme and promote their achievements.


Through the Mountain Protected Areas Update, a revitalised Protect Mountains website and other publications, we will communicate the latest news about what is happening in mountain protected areas globally to inspire the highest standards of mountain protected area management.  

See top right for links to the latest updates.

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