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Rocky Mountains and Kootenay River / iStockPhoto

January 26, 2017. Earth / A Gift of Nature

Transboundary Conservation

Transboundary Protected Areas now extend over 4.6 million square kilometers globally, and are found from the Arctic to Antarctica and in every continent and ocean

Gerardo Ceballos, Ph.D, Nigel J.Collar, Dr. Tracy Farrel, Barbara Goettsch, Vance Martin, Roderic Mast, Jeffrey A. McNeely, Cristina Goetsch Mittermeier, Russell A. Mittermeier, Fabian Oberfeld, Trevor Sandwith, Dr. Jane Smart, Dr. Richard Sneider, Gregory S. Stone & Michael P. Totten

In 1895, Canada established the Kootenay Lakes Forest Park in Southern Alberta.  Fifteen years later, on the other side of the border, Glacier National Park in Montana became the United States of America’s tenth National Park.  In 1932, these two parks merged, and were thus officially designated as the world’s first transboundary conservation area.  Entitled the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, its existence served to recognize both the need and opportunity to cooperate on important management issues, and to symbolize the cooperative relationship between adjacent countries.  Since then, over 270 transboundary conservation area complexes have been recognized worldwide.

Transboundary Protected Areas can offer a means to reconcile relationships among a diverse range of stakeholders, to recognize the role of indigenous peoples and local communities in both the history and prospects for conservation and development, and to explore cooperative opportunities for social and economic development in the future. While respecting the needs of sovereign states and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in the decision-making processes, larger, diverse and interesting transboundary protected areas can become very attractive for tourism investment and development.  The mountain complex of the Virungas is a prime example. Here, carefully managed tourism visitation to the gorilla populations has created a diversity of employment and investment opportunities on the shared border between Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another important benefit of transboundary conservation areas stems from their regional political benefits. These areas can help reduce tensions between countries that have strained relations, they can help resolve ongoing conflicts (such as over border disputes), or they can be used after a political settlement has been reached, as a goodwill gesture to begin rebuilding stronger ties and peaceful cooperation.  In the case of the first International Peace Park, they can also celebrate historically good relations and a shared commitment to joint management of natural resources.  Examples of these situations include the transboundary conservation area established in the Cordillera del Condor in 1998 between Peru and Ecuador where boundary disputes had been a source of conflict between these countries. In southeastern Europe, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, many of the countries in the region began exploring transboundary conservation along their new shared borders.  To the extent that transboundary conservation areas can play an important role in the settlement of disputes and be an important vehicle for reducing tensions, their geopolitical significance is potentially far reaching, especially given the very high number of unresolved border disputes around the world.


This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Conservation Series Books A GIFT OF NATURE (2012)


A Gift of Nature

Twenty Years of Conservation & Photography

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