Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The Trump Administration Takes Out 17 International Biosphere Reserves

The United Nations recently announced twenty-three additions to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). At the same council meeting where those additions were made, a request by the United States to remove seventeen was also approved. The Trump administration has trumpeted its general disdain for the United Nations, but this withdrawal was done without fanfare and so received very little press coverage.

There are 669 UN biosphere reserves (UNBR) in 120 countries, including 20 transboundary sites. The program is housed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Three Sisters, individually known today as South Sister, Middle Sister and North Sister, and in early days as Faith, Hope and Charity. The 283,630-acre Three Sisters Wilderness is still a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System, but is no longer a unit of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Image: USDA Forest Service

The Three Sisters, individually known today as South Sister, Middle Sister and North Sister, and in early days as Faith, Hope and Charity. The 283,630-acre Three Sisters Wilderness is still a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System, but is no longer a unit of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Image: USDA Forest Service

Though my world travels have not been extensive, I found when traveling in Australia, Canada, and Tanzania that those nations touted their international biosphere reserves—at least as a tourism attraction, if not also a source of national pride. In the United States, most of the biosphere reserves have never been prominently featured in educational and promotional materials.

In Oregon, there are pockets of resistance to the very existence of the UN. In southern Josephine County, one still sees signs saying “US out of UN.” So afraid of the UN was the government of Grant County, Oregon, that in 2002 it declared the county to be a “UN-free zone.” The official resolution charged that the UN wanted to take away people’s guns, seize private property, control the education of children, and “establish one world religion—Pantheism (and) world taxation.”

From 1995 through 2002, significant opposition to UNBRs was coming from two groups—those who hate public lands and those who hate the United Nations (a Venn diagram would show significant overlap among the two sets). During those years, the irrepressible and irascible Rep. Don Young of Alaska sponsored a proposed “American Land Sovereignty Protection Act” that would have required specific congressional approval for designation of any U.S. land as a UNBR. The bill passed the House of Representatives in two of the four Congresses where it was introduced, but by 2002 it had played out with no action by the House, and it has not been introduced since. No action ever occurred in the Senate.

Yet, in February 2017, this same Rep. Young introduced a congressional resolution acknowledging the 100th anniversary of Denali National Park and Preserve in his state that reads in part: “Whereas Denali National Park and Preserve was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and has become a premier international tourist destination . . .” The House version of the resolution has gone nowhere, but the Senate version passed the Senate by unanimous consent (with the same whereas).

After an international biosphere reserve is established, there are periodic reviews on the part of both UNESCO and the UNBR nation. The seventeen loser UNBRs (struck through in the list below) had the bad timing to come up for periodic review during the Trump administration. There are still thirty UNBR reserves in the United States. The italicized units on the list survived periodic review in 2014, so they won’t come up for review during the Trump administration. As for the others, who knows?

Aleutian Islands (1976)

Beaver Creek (1976)

Big Bend (1976)

Big Thicket (1981)

California Coast Ranges (1983)

Carolinian South Atlantic (1986)

Cascade Head (1976)

Central Gulf Coast Plain (1983)

Central Plains (1976)

Champlain-Adirondack (1986)

Channel Islands (1976)

Coram (1976)

Denali (1976

Desert (1976)

Everglades & Dry Tortugas (1976)

Fraser (1976)

Glacier (1976)

Glacier Bay–Admiralty Is (1986)

Golden Gate (1988)

Guanica (1981)

H. J. Andrews (1976)

Hawaiian Islands (1980)

Hubbard Brook (1976)

Isle Royale (1980)

Jornada (1976)

Konza Prairie (1978)

Land Between the Lakes (1991)

Luquillo (1976)

Mammoth Cave Area (1990)

Mojave and Colorado Deserts (1984)

New Jersey Pinelands (1988)

Niwot Ridge (1979)

Noatak (1976)

Olympic (1976)

Organ Pipe Cactus (1976)

Rocky Mountain (1976)

San Dimas (1976)

San Joaquin (1976)

Sequoia-Kings Canyon (1976)

South Atlantic Coastal Plain (1983)

Southern Appalachian (1988)

Stanislas-Tuolumne (1976)

Three Sisters (1976)

University of Michigan Biological Station (1979)

Virgin Islands (1976)

Virginia Coast (1979)

Yellowstone (1976)

The practical result of the Trumpian pullback of U.S. WNBR units won’t be any less conservation, as each and every area is already and otherwise protected. Many will connect names with units of the National Park System, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Wilderness Preservation System, private reserves of the Nature Conservancy, state parks, and so on.

Old-growth Sitka spruce in the Cascade Head Scenic-Research Area on the Siuslaw National Forest in the Oregon Coast Range. It's still United Nations Biosphere Reserve, but please don't anyone tell President Trump. Image: Gary Braasch.

Old-growth Sitka spruce in the Cascade Head Scenic-Research Area on the Siuslaw National Forest in the Oregon Coast Range. It's still United Nations Biosphere Reserve, but please don't anyone tell President Trump. Image: Gary Braasch.

The political result is another fuck-you to the rest of the world from the government of the United States.

According to UNESCO, the UNBR “promotes North-South and South-South collaboration and represents a unique tool for international co-operation through sharing knowledge, exchanging experiences, building capacity and promoting best practices.”

When Trump returned from his first official trip to Europe and the Middle East, his national security advisor, H. R. McMaster, and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn co-wrote in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that “the president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community,’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

This is another example of elections having consequences.