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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2003

Managing with Change

John F. Turner, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Remarks to Fifth World Parks Congress
Durban, South Africa
September 9, 2003

Good afternoon. It’s indeed a great privilege to join all of you at this important conference -- to gather with so many neighbors from around the world who are committed to protecting the world’s remaining critical commodity: Wildness. I want to thank my friend, Valli Moosa, for inviting me to participate with distinguished colleagues in this session.

I also want to congratulate IUCN for this Congress and express my appreciation to the wonderful people of South Africa for again hosting the world community as we focus on stewardship of our most precious resources.

One year ago, many of us gathered in this magnificent country to dedicate ourselves to strategies to make our future more sustainable. We now return to advance our mutual goal of restoring and safeguarding Earth’s remaining wild places. We cannot measure the environmental, economic, historical, cultural and spiritual significance of these treasures in dollars, euros or rands. But we must recognize our collective responsibility to ensure their restoration and preservation for the benefit of current and future generations.

I must admit that this challenge -- and opportunity -- holds great meaning for me personally. As with many of you, conservation has been more than a lifelong profession. For me, it is a lifelong passion that stems from my upbringing in a five-generation ranching and outfitting family. We operate a recreational service business within Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, sharing the Park’s magnificent resources with visitors from around the world through horseback rides, river float trips, cross-country ski tours, and family wilderness camping expeditions.

Grand Teton and its neighbor, Yellowstone, are the cradle of the national park movement in my country. Established in 1872, Yellowstone is our first and oldest national protected area. The establishment of this Park launched a conservation ethic and one of the best ideas my nation ever had -- setting aside wild places and wild resources for their own intrinsic values, and for the benefit of future generations.

Today, our National Park System encompasses over 380 units and some 38 million hectares, an area roughly the size of Germany. The federal government also manages another 260 million hectares of wildlife reserves, wilderness areas and marine sanctuaries. This year, 2003, the United States is celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of our magnificent National Wildlife Refuge System, which includes over 500 areas and 45 million hectares of protected habitat.

If any of you traveled to my home state of Wyoming for the 1972 World Parks Congress, we may have met then. As an elected local official, I was privileged to welcome Congress attendees to the birthplace of our national parks movement. Much has changed since l972. Thus it is appropriate we gather here with the theme, “Managing with Change.” Change presents us with considerable challenges in managing protected areas. Increasing competition for natural resources, increasing scarcity of these resources, changes in land use patters, economic developments, political stability, climate change -- all of these factors can have enormous effects on the well-being of reserves.

People around the world are tackling this problem, seeking to build an enduring conservation movement that reaches to the corners of the globe. There are now more than 102,000 protected areas in the world encompassing ecologically and economically important ecosystems from mountain ridges to coral reefs covering 18.8 million square kilometers -- an area double the size of Europe. The total number of these areas continues to expand.

I want to emphasize that in recent years, it is developing countries that are leading the way in setting aside national parks and protected reserves -- demonstrating a commitment to conservation that exemplifies great courage and boldness. We all have a responsibility to help them in this endeavor.

How do we ensure that this remarkable trend of national park conservation continues in the face of changes throughout the world? And how do we see that the lands we’ve already set aside are managed in a way that guarantees their integrity into the future? With your indulgence, I offer six simple principles to guide the future of protected areas:

1.  THINK SYSTEMS. We need to take a holistic approach to protected areas. Setting aside parks is more than simply designating beautiful landscapes. Reserves should reach beyond boundaries and bind together a web of interconnected parts including scientific, biological and environmental concerns -- as well as social and economic values. We must incorporate the cultures of local and indigenous communities and the needs of migratory wildlife. We must include strategies that promote jobs and build economic prosperity for those whose livelihoods depend on the resources of these natural places.

2.  SCIENCE-BASED DECISION MAKING. There can be no substitute for baseline data, inventories and ongoing research when it comes to establishing and managing the resources of protected areas. Research should consider social and economical factors, as well as biological factors.

3.  BUILD PARTNERSHIPS. As mentioned by President Mandela, protected areas must be established and managed in partnership. Conservation is a cooperative effort that succeeds when resource agencies, local businesses and communities, non-profit organizations, timber interests and others dependent on the resources act in unison. In my experience, these partnerships work best when they are built from the bottom up. Start with local neighbors and work to incorporate their culture, traditions and aspirations into the process. An involved and supportive local citizenry is critical.

America’s first great conservationist president, Theodore Roosevelt, recognized this partnership concept when he addressed a gathering at Yellowstone National Parks 100 years ago. He remarked that the “essential feature in the present management of the Yellowstone Park…is its essential democracy – it is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests, of the wilderness game for people as a whole…”This feature, Roosevelt noted, imbued in the park’s neighbors and visitors a sense of ownership of the land and a desire to preserve it for their children. He also wisely observed that “conservation is economic development.”

Public-private collaboration is the centerpiece of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership launched by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the World Summit last year. This is a remarkable initiative, bringing together 29 governments, international organizations and business and environmental interests in the shared goal of sustainably managing the enormously rich forest resources of Central Africa for the benefit of the people of the 6 Congo Basin countries -- who have courageously embraced this initiative. In short, they are betting their future well-being on the benefits of land conservation.

A primary goal of the Partnership is to assist in establishing national networks of protected areas that are economically viable and provide livelihoods for local communities through ecotourism and other means. The Partnership regards conservation and growth as mutually reinforcing and will support mechanisms already developed by the Central African nations in cooperation with NGOs under the recent Yaounde Declaration. The U.S. has committed $53 million to the Congo Basin Partnership over the next 4 years.

I commend President Bongo for his bold decree establishing 13 national parks in Gabon covering 11% of the country. And I congratulate Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo for working with the International Tropical Timber Organization to establish two transboundary parks along their shared borders.

In another approach to partnerships, the United States has put in place a unique debt-for-nature program that allows eligible developing countries to reduce their official debt to the U.S. while generating funds for tropical forest conservation. So far, we have concluded agreements with six countries -- Bangladesh, Belize, El Salvador, the Philippines, Peru, and Panama -- which will generate more than $60 million for forest conservation. Three U.S. based international NGO’s (The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International) have contributed significantly to these agreements.

4.  CAPACITY BUILDING AND TRAINING. Protected areas can only be maintained over time and in the face of changing conditions if democratic principles and institutions are strong. Good governance, participatory processes and transparency are essential -- as are strong institutions and a cadre of trained conservationists, managers and enforcement officials. Protected area stewardship, as well as societal goals, quality health care, education, adequate sanitation and economic prosperity will falter and likely fail in areas plagued by corruption, violence, poor resource regulatory processes, weak management and lack of public participation.

An example of an approach to address the issue of resource governance, in July Secretary Powell launched a new initiative by President Bush to help developing countries combat illegal logging. Illegal logging is destroying many forest ecosystems and threatening protected areas in many regions of the world. The World Bank estimates that illegal activities cost countries some $10 to $15 billion annually in lost resources and lost revenues to governments and local communities.

Our new initiative will focus on reducing threats from illegal logging in protected areas in Central America, the Amazon, South and Southeast Asia and Central Africa. For example, we will work with Latin American countries to help them monitor exports of mahogany consistent with new requirements under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. We will help African countries give their laws teeth through enforcement by transferring remote sensing technology to monitor forest activity. We will work with Asian partners to address illegal logging in orangutan habitat and other protected areas. Some $15 million this year will build the foundation for action with partner countries and stakeholders in 2004 and beyond.

5.  ENGAGE THE DISENFRANCHISED. Ultimately, to be successful, we must involve the poor, the youth, women, indigenous populations and urban dwellers in our long term management strategies for protected areas. Through education and local programs, these groups should be involved in developing plans for these areas and should share in the benefits. Their concerns and dreams must be considered in conservation and management. Resulting economic benefits and job creation should flow to these segments of our society. We must fulfill the promise that “conservation is economic development.”

6.  INCREASED SPIRITUALITY. We must not lose sight of the spiritual significance of these landscape treasurers as we pursue the more mundane business of crafting management plans. By “spirituality,” I do not necessarily mean religions, although faith-based organizations can play a role. I mean basic ethics -- accepting the responsibility of stewardship for natural blessings we all receive, for saving resources important for the renewal and benefit of future generations.

Sometimes, I think the business of conservation often becomes too secular. Seldom will we have adequate biological information, policies or funding. This principle embodies just doing the right thing -- by choosing and implementing options which protect traditional values and resources, diverse gene pools, natural beauty and places of solitude and inspiration. It means preserving options for the future.

Henry David Thoreau appropriately observed “in wildness is the preservation of the Earth.” Indeed, as Theatre Africa reminded us last evening, wild places (and their inherent values) offer watering holes where people of different creeds and cultures can gather to share and learn and benefit from each other. The wonders of nature remind us that we are all part of one magnificent whole. National parks exemplify our shared cultural heritage, our common patrimony and our common destiny in the well-being of the earth’s natural landscapes. Protected areas represent hope for the future.

As we look toward the future, we can learn from the past. In 1910, President Roosevelt underscored the critical importance of wild places when he said: “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us…”

These words ring true today. This remains the task before us. In working together, we will forge a renewed connection to our planet, to the other life forms with which we share it, and most importantly to one another -- truly generating benefits beyond boundaries. Indeed, parks and protected areas are the “geography of hope.” Thank you.

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