Establishment of Protected Areas

The strategy used by most nation-states to preserve species and their critical habitats is to establish nature reserves, parks, forests, refuges, and other restricted-use areas. Classification systems and amount of protection vary by nation-state.

The first protected area was Yellowstone National Park, established by the U.S. Congress in 1872. The greatest majority of protected lands are found on federal public domain, which comprises 29 percent of the total land area of the United States. Initially, public domain comprised 80 percent of American lands, but until the turn of the twentieth century, the Congress sold or gave lands to spur development of infrastructure (such as the transcontinental railroad system), agriculture, natural resource and other economic development activities, and population settlement.

Approximately half of the federal public domain can be considered protected for the purpose of preserving species, habitats, and eco-systems. The American system is composed of five components:25

• National Wilderness Preservation System, established in 1964 and including about 106 million acres (with 50 million acres of Alaska wilderness added by the Congress in 1980). These lands by legislative mandate are to remain undeveloped areas forever;

• National Wildlife Refuge System, composed of more than 93 million acres, and including 500 refuges, which provide habitat for migratory birds and animals;

• National Forests, which include more than 190 million acres, and are protected in order to provide timber supplies for future national needs as well as to protect mountain watersheds;

• National Park System, including more than 83 million acres, with 66 national parks and 318 national monuments, historic sites, recreational areas, near-wilderness, seashores, and lake shores, and restricted from mining, logging, and grazing; and

• National Rangelands, including 403 million acres of grassland, prairie land, desert, scrub forest, and other open space, much of which is suitable for grazing. The Chinese system, on the other hand, has a different basis in organization. Since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, all land in China has been owned by the state. With the onset of economic reform in 1978, however, some lands have been managed by collectives, with leasehold rights to individuals. And the Chinese state has addressed biodiversity conservation by establishing nature reserves, forest reserves, parks, and other protected areas. The first nature reserve was established in 1956, but until the end of the Maoist era, few areas received this type of protection. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, protected areas grew rapidly. By 2005, over 2,000 protected areas had been formed in China; some are quite small but a few comprise large areas of the lands in a province or autonomous region.26 Altogether, they comprise about 15 percent of China's land area. However, critics allege that from one-third to half of the protected areas are "paper parks."

The first mention of protected areas in planning documents was in 1979. Regulations were promulgated for them in 1985. Revisions to these rules were endorsed by the State Council in 1994. The management and financing of protected areas are controversial and currently under study.27 By regulation, the protected areas include three separate management zones:

[C]ore area with no use, habitation or interference permitted, not even scientific research; buffer zone where some collection, measurements, management and scientific research is permitted; and experimental zone where scientific experimentation, public education, survey, tourism and raising of rare and endangered species are permitted.28

According to the Protected Areas Task Force Report of 2004, the zoning system copies that proposed by UNESCO for use in Biosphere Reserves, and is designed to allow study of interactions between human use and nature.

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