What should a protected natural area have?

No one doubts the importance of protecting, for recreational or ecological purposes, portions of a poorly altered nature, but there are criteria to do so

Bridge view near a waterfall in a nature reserve.

Bridge view near a waterfall in a nature reserve. / Photo: Pexels - Reference Image

LatinAmerican Post | Jorge Guasp

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Leer en español: ¿Qué debe tener un área natural protegida?

The first national parks: protect landscapes and natural elements

The case of the Yellowstone

“A group of expeditionaries exploring the Yellowstone region in Wyoming, admired of the almost supernatural beauty of geysers, canyons, waterfalls, lakes, and forests in the area, began to study the way and means of preserving some of the parts forever greatest of the primitive United States. One night in 1870, at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers, these explorers began, in the heat of a campfire, to discuss the idea of a permanent public reserve in what was called Proposal for the change of the conservationist paradigm in planning, management and use of protected wild areas of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature - IUCN.

Thanks to this initiative, in 1872, Yellowstone National Park, with more than 800,000 hectares, was created, the first national park in the world that, according to its declaration, was called to become “a place of recreation for the benefit and comfort of the people”. The objective of this creation was to protect the attractive natural elements of the area (Old Faithful geyser, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lake Yellowstone, among others) without major considerations about the link between nature and human beings.

The need to contemplate the relationship of man with nature

FAO, in its document Financial Sustainability for Protected Areas in Latin America, states that “historically protected areas were created to conserve certain landscapes or natural elements with great value, for example, the Yellowstone National Park in the United States or the Nahuel National Park Huapi in Argentina. They have also been created to protect endangered species that depended on a particular environment for their survival. In recent years this discourse has changed and biodiversity conservation, although it is an important element, is not the only one. Protected areas provide environmental benefits and services to society as a whole: this change of approach is more anthropocentric, but it is important that human beings have a greater appreciation of the direct relationship between conserving nature and their well-being. ”

In the case of Nahuel Huapi, the National Park is adjacent to the municipal fabric of the city of San Carlos de Bariloche, an international tourist center. Traditional lake excursions navigate Lake Nahuel Huapi, which is also the scene of salmonid fishing, a sporting activity that attracts the attention of visitors from all over the world during the summer.

In this context, the conservation of nature must be reconciled with the tourist use of natural resources, so that the human presence does not violate the values that led to the declaration of the protected natural area in 1934.

This consideration of the link between man and nature, which incorporates the rational use of natural and cultural resources, has inspired the development of programs such as the MAB (Man and Biosphere). “Man and the Biosphere (MAB) is an Intergovernmental Scientific Program that seeks to establish scientific bases to cement the long-term improvement of relations between people and the environment,” according to UNESCO.

Criteria for the creation of protected natural areas

In general terms, we can say that the conservation of nature, through the creation of protected areas, meets the following basic criteria:

The preservation of ecosystems (forest, sea, desert, etc.) and their ecological processes, and of biological diversity; the protection of species in particular (tapir, yaguareté, huemul); the conservation of landscapes of high aesthetic value; and the to compensation for ecological damage (when a dam floods an area, for example, a protected and contiguous natural space is usually created, in order to compensate for the damage caused by water).

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Protected areas as representative space of ecosystems

Many global ecosystems lack protected natural areas that incorporate them, or are poorly represented in them. In this situation were the Esteros del Iberá, one of the most important aquifers in South America.

Although part of that ecosystem already had the status of a provincial reserve, in December 2018, the Argentine National Congress created the Iberá National Park. “The brand new Iberá national park adds upland areas to the 553,000 hectares of estuaries and wetlands of the adjacent Iberá Provincial Park. In this way, the largest natural park in Argentina is formed: 712,800 hectares with unique species of fauna, as well as wetlands, grasslands, spinal forests, weeds, and small forests. This large park has 4000 species of flora and fauna, almost 30% of those recognized in Argentina”. (Argentine National Committee of IUCN)

Challenges in the creation of protected natural areas

“A complete ecoregion such as Campos y Malezales is totally absent from national protected areas. Pampas and Espinal, two ecoregions that are located in the agricultural-livestock heart of the country, are represented very poorly (1-3%). Other less represented ecoregions in the national system of protected areas are Chaco Seco, Chaco Húmedo, Monte de Plains y Mesetas, Mar Argentino, and Islas del Atlántico Sur ”(Ministry of Agriculture and Sustainable Development of Argentina, 2017, cited in Protected Areas in Argentina: beyond the numbers and expressions of desires, Environment and Natural Resources Foundation).

In addition to creating new protected areas that contribute to conservation, it is important that they be effective, and that natural resources are also protected outside national parks and reserves, in order to consolidate biological corridors that connect different environments. Without a global and concrete environmental policy, protected areas are doomed to become islands, and lose their purpose due to anthropic pressure in the surrounding territories.

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