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Forty-six of 47 U.S. biosphere reserves fail to meet U.N. requirements

By Henry Lamb
web posted September 5, 2005

A new study published by Sovereignty International, Inc., reveals that only one of the 47 U.N.-designated Biosphere Reserves in the United States meets the new "Sustainable Development" requirements of UNESCO. Five of the Reserves could be brought into compliance, but the remaining 41 Reserves are so far out of compliance that they may need to be de-listed.

A similar study in Scotland revealed that four of the U.K.'s 13 Biosphere Reserves were de-listed, because they could not be brought into compliance with UNESCO's new guidelines.

When the program began, in the 1970s, the goals of the program were to "conserve biotic communities of plants and animals," and to provides areas for research and education.

The new guidelines, established through the Seville Strategy and the Statutory Framework focus more on Sustainable Development than on the original idea of conservation.

UNESCO guidelines now require that all Biosphere Reserves:

"... provide an opportunity to explore and demonstrate approaches to sustainable development on a regional scale.

"Link biosphere reserves with each other, and with other protected areas, through green corridors and in other ways that enhance biodiversity conservation, and ensure that these links are maintained."

"[provide]...a mechanism to manage human use and activities" "[have]...a designated authority or mechanism to implement the management policy or plan" "[include]...participation of a suitable range of public authorities, local communities and private interests in the design and carrying out of the functions of a Biosphere Reserve."

All of the U.S. Biosphere Reserves were designated before this new criteria was adopted by UNESCO, and only one, the Champlain-Adirondak Biosphere Reserve, is in compliance.

Among the many compliance shortfalls is the requirement for a "...mechanism to manage human use and activities" and the absence of participation by "public authorities" and "local communities" in the functions of a Biosphere Reserve.

Biosphere Reserves include core wilderness areas that are off limits to most human activity; buffer zones, where limited human activity is permitted; and "transitional zones" where human use and activities are to be managed for conservation and sustainable development objectives.

Southern Appalachian Biosphere ReserveMost of the land in the buffer zones and transitional zones is privately owned, and covers many political jurisdictions. The Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve, for example, covers 37-million acres, which stretches from near Birmingham, Alabama to Roanoke, Virginia. Most of the people who live within the reserve, are completely unaware that they live within a U.N.-designated reserve, or of what is planned for them.

Neither Congress, nor any state legislature has ever voted to designate these areas as U.N. Biosphere Reserves, nor is there any evidence that any elected body of "public authorities" has ever voted to be a part of such designations.

There is even less evidence that "local communities" support these designations. In fact, the last four Biosphere Designations proposed in the United States were blocked by local opposition

The U.S. Biosphere Reserve program is operated by a conglomerate of federal and state agencies, driven primarily by environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlands Project, and a host of others.

This study raises several questions that must be answered:

  1. Why does the U.S. participate in a U.N. program that requires the creation of "...a mechanism to manage human use and activities" in an area such as the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve, and 46 similar areas across the nation?
  2. How does the United States, and more particularly, the people who live within these Biosphere Reserves, benefit from the U.N. designation?
  3. Why have these Biosphere Reserves persisted for 30 years, without the approval of the elected "public authorities" who represent the people? The people of the United States deserve answers to these questions, and Congress has the responsibility to find the answers.

Unless there are answers which demonstrate real benefits to the people of the United States, these Biosphere Reserves should be de-listed, and removed from any affiliation with the United Nations.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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