America’s National Park Service Celebrates Centennial — Natura 2000 Targets Many NPS Objectives across the EU

Henry David Thoreau, a nineteenth century American writer and nature lover wrote that “in wildness is the preservation of the world”. This year marks 100 years of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), which celebrates its centennial on August 25, 2016, and Thoreau’s words continue to ring true.

America’s National Park Service is dedicated to preserving and conserving some of the best of the United States for current and future generations. By sheer expanse, natural beauty, biodiversity, history, and cultural heritage, the park system is unparalleled in the United States. Sites include national parks, monuments, seashores, memorials, battlefields, and more. And, parts of the park system even boast some European roots.

Americans know that the Statue of Liberty — one of the country’s most iconic and enduring landmarks — was a gift of friendship from the people of France. “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World”, was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924, and is recognized as a universal beacon of freedom and democracy. Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which played a memorable role in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest, presents likenesses of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, sculpted into the mountainside by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum.

Statue of Liberty, NPS
Mount Rushmore, NPS

John Muir, who emigrated at age 11 with his family from Scotland to the U.S., is often called the father of America’s national parks and forests. Muir described his passion for and experience in nature in popular writings, which caught the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, and Muir’s advocacy helped create several national parks, including Sequoia (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), and the Grand Canyon (1908). Thanks to Muir’s vision, people today can visit over 400 National Park Service sites. Called “America’s Best Idea,” the United States’ unique system of protecting natural and cultural heritage spurred other countries to do the same. Muir’s writings and the places he fought to protect continue to inspire people worldwide to discover and connect with nature.

From Hawaiian volcanoes, like the rare and sacred landscape of Maui’s Haleakala National Park to the majestic mountains of Alaska’s Denali NP to the the marine life, mammals, and glaciers of Glacier Bay NP and Preserve; from the blue depths of Oregon’s Crater Lake NP to Florida’s Everglades NP that protects an unparalleled landscape that provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther; and from the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, DC, steeped in U.S. history, to Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park, America’s natural and cultural diversity is showcased, protected, and celebrated.

Denali National Park, NPS/Tim Rains
American Crocodile-Everglades National Park, NPS
National Mall and Memorials, NPS

Yellowstone, also the world’s first national park (1872), features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and gushing geysers, including its most famous, Old Faithful. It’s also home to hundreds of animal species, including bears, wolves, bison, elk, and antelope. The protection and recovery of bison in Yellowstone is one of the great triumphs of American conservation. In 1902, after years of hunting and poaching, only about two dozen bison remained in Yellowstone. The next hundred years chronicled the slow, but determined efforts of those dedicated to bringing this species back from the brink of extinction. The National Park Service takes pride in its role in restoring this iconic species. Grizzly bears were listed as threatened with extinction in 1975. Today, grizzlies have made a remarkable recovery, and their growth and expansion in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is another inspiring conservation success story. The population has grown from 136 in 1975 to about 700 today.

Bison in Yellowstone, NPS/Jim Peaco
Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone, NPS/Jim Peaco

In the European Union, the Natura 2000 program consists of a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species and rare types of natural habitats. These protected areas are found in all 28 EU Member States, stretching over 18 percent of the EU’s land area and almost 6 percent of its maritime area. The objective is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. The program is the centerpiece of the EU’s nature and biodiversity policy.

Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. In contrast to the United States’ National Park System, which consists of government-owned lands mostly open to the public, Natura 2000 includes strictly protected nature reserves, where most of the land remains privately owned. The approach to conservation and sustainable use of the Natura 2000 areas is largely centered on people working with nature rather than against it.

The most recent Natura 2000 awards represent some of the best of the program. The 2015 winners include projects from Bulgaria, Latvia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and cross-border projects from Belgium and France, as well as Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, and Norway. A sampling of the winning projects includes:
• UK: Restoring blanket bogs, which have suffered degradation over time due to centuries of atmospheric pollution from nearby industrial areas;
• BU,GR,FI,HU,NO: Implementing a successful “flyway” approach for some of Europe’s rarest water birds, spanning their entire Eurasian migration path;
• SP: Saving the Iberian lynx from extinction via public/private cooperation;
• BE, FR: Creating green corridors under powerlines and in wooded areas.

Applying responsible stewardship to preserve and conserve some of the earth’s best places and species is vital to ensure their survival for future generations. The United States and the European Union are each doing their part to protect nature and biodiversity. We know that nature can be a tonic in today’s complicated world. But even 500 years ago, in seemingly simpler times, William Shakespeare wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”