Parks Beyond Borders #3: Looking Abroad At National Park News

Sign in a train bound for a National Park in Japan

In Japan, national parks are often an easy train ride outside population centers. This train is about to leave Tokyo for Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Randy Johnson photo.

Editor's note: The Traveler is expanding our coverage of national parks in other nations. Starting in 2012 we'll be rolling out travel stories on international park destinations, but we're also christening this weekly roundup on park news from countries other than the U.S. Stay tuned for more on global parks. And if you live in one of the 200 countries where our readers reside, send Randy your news or suggestions.

Geothermal Energy Coming to Japan’s National Parks?

Japan’s Environment Ministry has decided to ease restrictions aimed at preserving park scenery and ecosystems to permit the extraction of geothermal heat in the country’s national parks.

Japan likely ranks third in the world for geothermal potential from its many volcanic hotspots. Development of those resources is lagging, reports say, because 80% of the country’s potential lies in national parks where exploitation is restricted.

In 1974 the government restricted geothermal development in certain areas to avoid environmental damage. The recent change in geothermal philosophy takes place in the wake of last year’s Tsunami and nuclear power plant disasters.

The initial plan to expand geothermal development of national parks was approved at a meeting on February 14, with new regulations expected to be finalized in March after consultation with environmental groups. The plan is based in part on the possibility that wells could be constructed outside of parks that do not alter park scenery but angle under the parks into areas possessing geothermal resources.

U.S., Mexican National Parks Renew Cooperative Relationship

On February 14th, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Luis Fueyo MacDonald, head of Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), renewing a longtime conservation agreement between the two agencies. The ceremony took place in San Francisco at an international summit attended by leaders of Marine Protected Area agencies.

Director Jarvis, said, “The United States and Mexico have a long history of cooperation on park and protected area matters, dating back at least 75 years, with the first official agreement between the NPS and CONANP’s predecessor agency dating to 1987,” Jarvis said. “The last 20 years have seen a significant increase in cooperative activities between NPS and CONANP.”

The two countries work together on many projects affecting migratory wildlife species, among them birds, bats, marine mammals, sea turtles, other marine life, and the monarch butterfly, all of which frequent national parks and protected habitats in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Other efforts include the Big Bend-Rio Bravo initiative between Big Bend National Park and counterpart protected areas across the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo river. Channel Islands National Park and the Isla Guadalupe Biosphere reserve off Baja California are developing a “sister park” relationship based on the parks’ similar ecology. The endangered elephant seal that repopulated the Channel Islands came from the seal colony on Isla Guadalupe.

Visitation Down at North York Moors National Park

Local organizations and the park authority are exploring ways to boost visitation at North York Moors National Park in northeast England, located to the northeast of Leeds and York.

Assistant director for park services Michael Graham, said: “Our aim is to reverse the decline in visitor numbers.” In 2011, visitation at the Sutton Bank visitor centre dropped 13,000, about10 per cent, while income at the park parking area, or “car park” fell 13 per cent.

The park hopes to raise its profile with branding initiatives and collaboration with cooperating organizations.

The park celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2012. It’s “one of the most stunning landscapes in the country, it will simply make you stand and stare,” says the park’s Web site.

Bill in Canadian Parliament Would Change Park Name

St. Lawrence Islands National Park near Kingston, Ontario would become Thousand Islands National Park if Conservative MP Gord Brown’s bill becomes law.

Brown said the new name would make it easier for people to "place" the 108-year-old national park.

Jeff Garrah, chief executive officer of the Kingston Economic Development Corp, said the Thousand Islands name is better known than St. Lawrence and would make it easier to market the park to tourists. He said the change, “would be an opportunity for a better brand.”

Brown said he expects costs incurred with changing websites, brochures and signs would be “minimal.”

More National Parks for Russia

Russia will get six new national parks in 2012. The new parks will be Beringia (in the Chukchi autonomous region), Land of Leopard (in Primorski Territory), Ladoga Skerries (in the Karelia Republic), Onega Pomorye (located in the Arkhangelsk Region), Chikoy (in Transbaikalian Territory) and Shantarskie Islands (Khabarovsk Territory).

Two new federal nature reserves will also be created in Russia this year: Ingenmanlandsky (in the Leningrad Region) and the Shaitan-Tau (the Orenburg Region).

A number of other nature reserves are slated for expansion. The government says the long-range plan is to create one new nature reserve a year during the period from 2013 to 2019, with two new reserves expected to be founded in 2020.