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Wed, Oct. 21

Conference bridges borders in search of shared solutions

Park managers from north and south of the border are meeting here this week to discuss shared objectives and concerns.

The three and a half day conference - Shared Heritage, Shared Stewardship: Connecting Sister Parks in the U.S. and Mexico - was jointly organized by the National Park Service and Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas. It brings together representatives from 10 NPS units, seven Mexican protected areas, regional and central offices for both management agencies, four U.S. federal agencies and nine non-governmental agencies from the U.S. and Mexico.

"Our parks and protected areas share numerous species ... which pay no attention to park or international boundaries," said Jonathan Putnam of the NPS Office of International Affairs.

Parks and reserves in both the United States and Mexico independently protect fragments of large but fragile ecosystems that span both countries - systems like the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. By coordinating efforts and information, land management agencies can save both time and money as they work toward objectives in common.

"Mexico is our closest neighbor," said Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin. "We share portions of the Sonoran Desert. There is a park in Mexico, Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, which like us, recently reintroduced California condors. We have migratory species like bats that winter in Mexico; and each year our number of visitors from Mexico increases. If we share all of these resources, we should be working together to find the best ways to manage them."

Sister park partnerships are intended to improve international cooperation and cross-cultural understanding by increasing the exchange of lessons learned, techniques and practices, and information and ideas between internationally recognized protected areas with similar concerns and challenges.

The first U.S.-Mexico sister park arrangements were established in 1997, partnering Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve and forging a relationship between Big Bend National Park, Maderas del Carmen and Santa Elena Cañón Flora and Fauna Reserves.

A decade later, Big Bend, Maderas del Carmen and Cañón de Santa Elena have worked together on a bi-national tamarisk eradication and native plant restoration project, and have participated in joint wildlife monitoring, protected area manager training and environmental education for their locals.

Organ Pipe Cactus and El Pinacate have spent the last 10 years jointly collecting data on their shared Sonoran Desert ecosystem, studying and exchanging data on air and water quality, threatened and endangered species, species of special concern and weather.

Today, nine NPS units have sister park relationships with 11 Mexican protected areas and more parks on both sides of the border are interested in pursuing these relationships.

This week's conference is intended to be a platform for parks, protected areas and various government and non-government agencies to learn from the experiences of existing partners, to explore new relationships and to identify and develop action plans for overcoming some of the obstacles that hinder these relationships.

"Our hope," said Putnam, "is that the Sister Park conference at Grand Canyon National Park will stimulate new ideas for collaboration, bring in new partners to the initiative, and lay the foundation for an expanded and more active program of cooperation between NPS, CONANP and others over the coming years."

For more information on the conference, contact Jacob Fillion at 638-7762.

For more information on the NPS Sister Parks Initiative, visit www.nps.gov/oia/topics/sisterparks/sisterparks.htm, or call Jonathan Putnam at 202-354-1809.

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