Countries of the Region

Canada, Mexico and USA  


The North American region extends from the Canadian Arctic in the north to the tropical forests of Mexico in the south, and surrounded by three oceans. It has more than 13,000 protected areas comprising intact wilderness areas, national, state, territorial and provincial parks, and community and indigenous conserved areas. These areas protect biodiversity and provide essential ecological, social, and economic benefits.

The region has many active WCPA members with diverse leadership skills and interests. They range from terrestrial and marine protected area managers, government workers, scientists, academics, conservationists, resource users, private land owners, and individuals.

The priorities for the North America programme include:

  • enhancing the relevance of protected areas;
  • promoting strategies for reducing biodiversity loss;
  • enhancing the resilience of protected areas to climate change impacts; and
  • connecting people to nature through protected area programs.

Key Issues

The North America region has been in the forefront in promoting a culture of conservation that embraces the value of pluralism in protected area governance and management. The first decade of the 21st Century has seen a substantial growth in protected areas and there is potential for more growth in the coming years. However, most of these protected areas are facing increasing threats from global, regional and local sources. These include climate change, invasive species, pollution, wildlife diseases, fragmented habitats, and changing land use. Developmental pressures from agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, extractive activities such as mining and drilling, built environments and infrastructure are also having significant impacts on the protected areas and associated ecosystems and species. In addition, our changing society is becoming more diverse, urban, and technologically oriented, and the populace is increasingly losing touch with nature and history due to changing lifestyles, value systems, leisure patterns and economic trends.

Stemming from these challenges, the main issues in the region include:

Enhancing the Relevance of Protected Areas: Besides being the cornerstone for biodiversity conservation and sustainable tourism, protected areas in the region are protecting critical resources that are central to human well-being, including those that enhance ecosystem services, human health, water provision, food security and disaster and risk prevention, among others. For many communities, protected areas have become the foundation for sustainable and resilient livelihoods, providing natural solutions to a broad range of ecological and livelihood challenges. Efforts will be made to improve the knowledge base on ecosystem services and their valuation, and to stimulate the integration of this knowledge in planning and decision making.

Communicating this information will help create societal recognition of the benefits of protected areas and the value of the services they provide, a key to inspiring broad-based support, engagement and stewardship.

 Promoting Strategies for Reducing Biodiversity Loss: At present, protected areas do not adequately represent all ecosystems, habitats and species important for conservation in the region, and some crucial areas, particularly within the marine environments are grossly underrepresented. In addition, many protected areas are beset with internal and external influences that are undermining their capacity to effectively conserve the resources they were established to protect. Loss of biodiversity in the region will require enhanced efforts and resources in areas such as establishment of new protected areas and expansion of existing ones to increase ecological representation, ecological restoration of degraded areas, increasing connectivity between protected areas, and minimizing anthropogenic pressures. Other strategies include improving management effectiveness.

Enhancing Protected Areas’ Resilience to Climate Change Impacts: North American ecosystems and human communities are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and protected areas have an important role to play in helping ecosystems, species and communities to adapt and mitigate these impacts. Protected areas are themselves experiencing unprecedented challenges from climate change, which are undermining their ability to cope with other stressors. Many efforts at different spatial scales have been initiated to increase the resiliency of protected areas to climate change impacts. Among these is an agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico to work together to protect wilderness areas across North America. Signed in 2009, this region-wide strategy incorporates a larger climate change adaptation agenda. Sharing of lessons learned and best practises from the on-going initiatives will be an important strategy for increasing the tools available to managers and other partners for addressing these challenges. Opportunities for effectively disseminating this information to global protected area partners outside the region will be sought, and where possible, build capacity for implementation.

Connecting People to Nature Through Protected Areas Programs: Protected areas are strategic avenues for connecting people with nature due to the great range of values and benefits they provide to diverse communities in the region. Engaging citizens, particularly the youth, families, immigrant communities and people living in urban centres to nature will be instrumental in raising societal appreciation of the role and significance of protected areas, and the need to protect them. In addition, protected area professionals will be encouraged to use creative ways to work with non-traditional partners in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, health and industry and create awareness of the need to reducing their impacts on biodiversity and protected areas, and to use environmentally sustainable practises for their own good and for the good of the local, regional and global communities. These efforts will build on the region’s track record of developing successful collaborative approaches for establishing, governing and managing protected areas. Today, some of the world’s most progressive partnership policies, governance principles and programs for managing protected areas in collaboration with local people and indigenous communities have been implemented in the region. Promoting, strengthening and expanding these partnerships will remain a critical component for the North American program.

To effectively address the region’s priorities, the capacity of protected area agencies and managers will need to be increased, strengthened and broadened. Also needed are more specialized knowledge, skills, competences and tools to adequately address the increasingly complex issues and challenges required for managing protected areas in a rapidly changing world. Whenever possible, the region will extend capacity-building support to other areas, particularly in the developing countries.

During the next four years, the WCPA members in the region will use different forums, networks and avenues to promote the values of protected areas, encourage professionalism in management of protected areas, share best practices and tools to strengthen resource stewardship, and encourage public policies that enhance the sustainability of protected areas. Other activities will include collating and analyzing information on economic valuation of protected areas, identifying key issues in benefits sharing in the North American context, determining the range of nature-based solutions that are being implemented or being considered in the region, communicating and promoting the successes of case studies of nature-based solutions to a wider audience, and working with members to align the thematic, specialist and task groups into an integrated structure, that is linked to the larger global WCPA structure.

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Lava fountain (Hawaiian type eruptions) in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Lava fountain (Hawaiian type eruptions) in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Photo: Jim Thorsell

Mike Wong
  • WCPA Regional Vice Chair for North America

WCPA Regional Vice Chair for North America


Email: mike.wong@iucn.org