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Conference ends with plans for action

Photo courtesy of NPS
Attendees from the United States-Mexico Sister Parks conference gather for a photo.

Photo courtesy of NPS Attendees from the United States-Mexico Sister Parks conference gather for a photo.

The first United States-Mexico Sister Parks conference in over four years ended on Thursday, Feb. 28, with presentation of action plans by existing, new and potential sister parks.

Many of the animated discussions at the three-day workshop shared a common theme: How to do we streamline cross-border communication and coordination? And how do land management agencies with different languages, regulations, governmental responsibilities and cultural norms overcome their barriers to combine resources and protect similar, often related, natural and cultural resources?

The conference abounded with examples of why parks and protected areas from different countries would want to work together.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and El Pinacate/Gran Desierto del Altar Biosphere Reserve share a cultural heritage going back centuries. But over time, with the establishment of international boundaries, that relationship was gradually forgotten.

Today, Organ Pipe and El Pinacate are pooling what they know of the area's cultural history and of two languages. This helps descendents of these ancient peoples reconnect with their heritage in ways as simple, and as meaningful as speaking the name of a place in their original language.

Padre Island and Laguna Madre de Tamaulipas, like many sister parks, each manage portions of one rare and fragile ecosystem, the Laguna Madre. These two protected areas, along with the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, are just developing their partnership, and would like to start by creating a regional identity program so that managers and visitors alike are thinking in terms of one Laguna Madre with one set of resources and needs rather than two distinct protected areas. They are also making plans to share resources, information and personnel to better manage their collective natural resources and to assure a healthy, productive ecosystem.

Even parks more distant from the border, like Grand Canyon, which hosted the conference, have an interest in establishing these sister park relationships. For instance Grand Canyon and San Pedro Martir National Parks could share information and observations on their reintroductions of the endangered California condor to gain a better understanding of how best to assure the success of their reintroduction programs and the survival of a unique species.

As the Chief of the Park Service's Office of International Affairs Stephen Morris, put it, attendees seemed to "understand clearly that conservation issues cannot be adequately addressed without the cooperation of partners and managers of other areas that share the same species or types of resources even if they cross an international border."

While the group was not able to resolve all of the issues facing cross-border sister parks, they did accomplish a great deal. Each of the existing sister park participants left with draft action plans and specific potential projects identified for implementation. And at the agency level NPS and Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) are developing a framework, or umbrella action plan, that will incorporate both system-wide collaborative activities and the individual sister park proposals and projects.

In the end, though, perhaps the biggest achievement according to the organizers, was overcoming the barriers of distance, border crossings, politics, language and culture just to stand face-to-face and talk.

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