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International Biosphere Reserves 

What do natural areas as diverse as Big Bend National Park in Texas, Everglades National Park in Florida, and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska all have in common? Apart from all being units of the National Park System, they are part of a select group of internationally recognized sites that have been designated International Biosphere Reserves.

Biosphere Reserves are designed to meet one of the most difficult challenges the world is facing as it move towards the 21st century: How to maintain and conserve the diversity of plants, animals and micro-organisms which make up our living "biosphere" while at the same time meet the material needs of an increasing population. In other words, how to reconcile conservation of biological resources with their sustainable use.

In 1968, the UNESCO Conference on the Conservation and Rational Use of the Biosphere took a look at this issue, and it gave rise to the launching of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme within UNESCO. The Biosphere Reserve concept was a key element for achieving MAB's objective to strike a balance between the apparently conflicting goals of conserving biodiversity, promoting economic and social development and maintaining associated cultural values. 

Its Purpose

Each Biosphere Reserve is intended to fulfill three basic functions, including: 1) conservation of important biological resources; 2) development of environmentally sound economic growth; and 3) support for research, monitoring, education, and information exchange related to conservation issues. To carry out these activities, they are organized into three interrelated zones, known as the core area, the buffer zone and the transition area.

The core area is legally protected from activity which would adversely affect its natural features. This area could be used for such activities as hiking, diving, bird watching, educational field trips, scientific research and monitoring of plant and animal life. The buffer zone is an "adjacent managed use area" that might be used for lumbering, grazing, and fishing activities, settlements, recreational facilities etc., managed to benefit local residents and the local environment. The transition area is the larger region in which local residents, cultural groups, economic interests, scientists, or managing agencies work together to link conservation and economic development guided by the cultural values of the local community.

The Nomination Process

Biosphere Reserves are nominated by national governments and must meet a minimal set of criteria and adhere to a minimal set of conditions before being admitted into the World Network. The general process is as follows:

1. A federal, state, or local agency, organization, or individual completes the nomination form. Owners and managers of the protected lands and local government leaders write letters of support.

2. The completed nomination form and letters of support sent to the national agency for review and recommendation. In the United States, this agency is the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program (U.S. MAB).

3. The national agency sends the recommended nomination to the UNESCO office in Paris, where the MAB program office there makes the final approval and awards the biosphere reserve designation.

During its most recent meetings in 2000 and 2001, the MAB program examined new biosphere reserve nominations and approved 34 new biosphere reserves, including the first ever in India, Malawi, Paraguay, and Vietnam.

Biosphere Reserves Today

Individual Biosphere Reserves remain under the jurisdiction of the countries in which they are situated. Some countries have enacted legislation specifically to establish Biosphere Reserves, while in other countries they simultaneously include areas protected under other systems (such as national parks or nature reserves) and other internationally recognized sites (such as World Heritage sites).  

There are presently more than 525 biosphere reserves in 105 countries. Of these, 47 units are in the United States, of which 30 are managed by the National Park Service.

The Biosphere Reserves that are units of the National Park Service include:

Big Bend National Park
Situated on border with Mexico, where the Rio Grande makes a sharp turn, park's desert and mountainous environment features a diversity of plant and animal life.

Big Thicket National Preserve
The "Biological Crossroads of North America" consists of nine separate land units and four water corridors that protect a variety of ecological systems.

Cape Lookout National Seashore
Three undeveloped barrier islands extend 55 miles along the lower Outer Banks and feature beaches, dunes, historic Portsmouth Village, and Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Channel Islands National Park
Comprising five islands off the Southern California coast, park includes nesting sea birds, sea lion rookeries, and a variety of plants found nowhere else in the world.

Congaree National Park
Preserves the largest expanse of old-growth floodplain forest in America.

Cumberland Island National Seashore
Preserves scenic, scientific, and historical values of largest and most southerly island off the coast of GA. Includes beaches and dunes, marshes, and freshwater lakes.

Death Valley National Park
This large desert, nearly surrounded by high mountains, includes the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

Denali National Park and Preserve
This Biosphere Reserve features 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, as well as a number of other mountains and large glaciers.

Dry Tortugas National Park
Park's cluster of seven islands includes Fort Jefferson, the largest all-masonry fortification in the Western Hemisphere, a bird refuge, and abundant marine life.

Everglades National Park
The largest subtropical wilderness in the continental U.S. includes extensive fresh- and saltwater areas, Everglades prairies, and mangrove forests.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Second largest unit of the NPS lies entirely above Arctic Circle and preserves part of Central Brooks Range, the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Includes Mount Fairweather, the highest peak in southeast Alaska, the U.S. portion of the Alsek River, and a variety of plants and animals.

Glacier National Park
Ruggedly beautiful terrain features numerous glaciers, lakes and streams, and a wide variety of wildlife and wildflowers.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Hosting nearly 20 million visitors a year, this large urban park includes ocean beaches, redwood forests, lagoons, marshes, military properties, and Alcatraz Island.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Encompassing portions of NC and TN, park features a diversified plant and animal life, and preserves structures representing southern Appalachian mountain culture.

Haleakala National Park
Preserves the volcanic landscape of Haleakala on Maui and unique ecosystems of Kipahulu Valley and the scenic pools along Oheo Gulch.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site features active volcanism and rare vegetation. Elevations range from sea level to 13,677 feet.

Isle Royale National Park
The largest forested island in Lake Superior includes 165 miles of scenic hiking trails and opportunities for wildlife observation.

Joshua Tree National Park
Desert park and Biosphere Reserve features a variety of plants and animals, and a representative stand of Joshua-trees.

Mammoth Cave National Park
The longest recorded cave system in the world includes more than 336 miles explored and mapped.

Mojave National Preserve
Protects fragile environment of the desert tortoise, and features a variety of landscapes, geologic phenomenon, historic sites, and recreation areas.

Noatak National Preserve
One of North America's largest mountain-ringed river basins with an intact, unaltered ecosystem, it features some of the Arctic's finest arrays of plants and animals.

Olympic National Park
Pristine wilderness park includes glacier capped mountains, over 60 miles of scenic ocean shore, and stands of old-growth and temperate rain forest.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Protects a collection of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert, including the organ pipe cactus, a large cactus rarely found in the United States.

Point Reyes National Seashore
Peninsula near San Francisco is noted for its long beaches backed by tall cliffs, lagoons and esteros, forested ridges, and offshore bird and sea lion colonies.

Redwood National & State Parks
Features old growth coastal redwood forests and 40 miles of scenic Pacific coastline.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Designated a Biosphere Reserve, park straddles the Continental Divide and features 14,000-foot peaks.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
The second oldest national park is home to groves of giant sequoias, Mineral King Valley, and Mount Whitney.

Virgin Islands National Park
Designated a Biosphere Reserve, park covers about one-half of St. John Island and Hassel Island in St. Thomas harbors.

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Net Company site includes multimedia tour, park newspaper and newsletter, discussion forums, and more.

Click here to select another park by classification type, by name, by state, or by activity

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