The U S national parks in international perspective: The Yellowstone model or conservation syncretism?
In recent years, international conservation scholars and practitioners have largely dismissed the U.S. national park experience, often termed the “Yellowstone model,” as being too protectionist and exclusionary, and therefore irrelevant and even detrimental to park management and policy in lesser developed countries. A review of the U.S. national park experience finds, however, that U.S. parks are perhaps most notable for the way that they have adapted to broader economic, social, cultural, and political demands to become an enduring feature of U.S. culture, while at the same time becoming keystones of biological diversity conservation in a process that I call conservation syncretism. The U.S. experience suggests that there is no easy, perfectly harmonious balance between protecting park ecosystems and meeting the needs of people, but that both can be pursued concurrently. U.S. parks are an imperfect response to diverse human demands, but the process of responding to these demands has produced many different types of national parks and management strategies. The 125 years of U.S. experience in balancing people’s needs and desires with nature protection in national parks holds useful lessons for international conservation. Specifically: (1) regardless of the nature of their management, it is important that national parks become valued by people from a broad spectrum of society; (2) a combination of advocacy groups, broad public input, and professional and scientific park management all can work together, even in the absence of formal collaborative processes, to shape a strong and enduring conservation system, (3) socially valued conservation takes time to evolve, and must simultaneously reflect and lead societal values; and (4) there is no easy answer to fundamental conflicts between biodiversity maintenance and human needs; these must be worked out in the combined crucibles of negotiation and adaptive management.