Protected Areas

Whether it's a First Nations people in Canada, an indigenous community in Guatemala, or an association of landowners in the U.S., societies have always made and enforced rules to protect the species and natural systems they care about. At WCS, we believe protected areas are essential to prevent the loss of endangered species and threatened wild nature. We understand protected areas may limit peoples' access to some natural resources, so we have a moral obligation to avoid adverse impacts and help affected families.

Our Goal

Help people protect the wildlife and natural systems meaningful to them, while ensuring that local families do not unjustly shoulder the costs of establishing and sustainably managing protected areas.

How will we get there?

Many protected areas are too small to ensure the long-term persistence of the species, ecological processes, or even cultural identities they were established to protect. Conserving well managed and permeable corridors to inter-connect these small, isolated protected areas will ensure that together they fulfill their roles effectively.

Less than 7% of the planet's surface remains largely intact, with a full complement of native plants and animals. These intact, best wild places function largely outside the influence of humankind, and are thus our only remaining manuals for nature that are not missing pages or whole chapters. Without them we will never know how to fix the nature we have damaged or replace the nature we have destroyed. Discovering and protecting these last, best wild places is essential.

We look to:

  • Assist governments and local communities in planning protected area networks.
  • Work with governments and indigenous peoples to develop management plans for protected areas.
  • Secure United Nations World Heritage status for protected areas, as this helps local people and national agencies defend against powerful economic forces.
  • Ensure local communities see the benefits of conservation—through the Makira Carbon Project in Madagascar, WCS developed unique sharing mechanisms to see that 70% of net revenues were allocated for conservation and grassroots community development projects.

Why WCS?

245 parks and reserves

In the last 100 years, WCS has helped nations and indigenous people to establish and manage 245 parks and reserves protecting nature, securing local economies, and strengthening cultural identities.

2 parks

In Afghanistan, WCS helped create the country’s first two protected areas, Band-e-Amir and Wakhan National Parks. We’re working with communities to manage the parks, which includes training the country’s first women rangers.

2 years

For 2 years before President Bongo of Gabon announced creation of the largest network of protected areas in Central Africa, WCS with our partner WWF surveyed dozens of areas and talked with hundreds of local communities to ensure that Gabon's parks would protect the most wildlife and respect local rights.

KBA Partnership

WCS has played an active role in the development of the Global Standard for Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and is an active member of the KBA Partnership.

Many if not all of the areas where WCS works are either currently identified as a KBA, or are likely to qualify as KBAs, and we look forward to increasing awareness of the KBA Standard and the role of the KBA concept across all 60-plus countries where we work. WCS has active or pending projects focusing on identifying and or improving conservation of KBAs across many of our Priority Regions, including (but not limited to) East Africa (including Uganda Opens in New Windowand Mozambique Opens in New Window), the Western Indian Ocean, Eastern Atlantic Ocean, Southeast Asia and North America (more from WCS Canada Opens in New Windowand their blog site Opens in New Window). As of right now, WCS has active and/or pending KBA-focused work in 10 countries across four continents.


What's at stake?

Protected areas are not only vital to iconic wildlife such as tigers, elephants, gorillas, manta rays, and bears, they also conserve less charismatic species that might otherwise be lost. They are vital for local communities because protected areas conserve the natural goods and services upon which their economies and cultural identities are founded.

13% but 83%

Formally protected areas cover only a small portion of the planet (13%) but harbor 83% of all endangered wildlife.

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