"In the Native American perspective, the preservation of the earth's environment is based on two key principles; time and
relationship. Components of the earth's natural environment interact and complement each other. If man fails to recognize these
fundamental relationships and does not institute preservation measures, the interaction will slowly decrease and eventually cease
altogether. The long term preservation concepts and success of the Biosphere Program will be measured by man's relationship with
the earth's natural environment over time. The Man and the Biosphere Program is a necessity for the very existence of man."
Floyd Flores, O'odham Nations,
A brief explanation of the U.S. Biosphere Reserves Program.
There are presently over 352 biosphere reserves in 87 countries. The 47 U.S. biosphere reserves include 99 legally protected sites
under government or private ownership. A biosphere reserve conserves the natural resources and special natural qualities of its
Each biosphere reserve must have at least one legally protected natural area. This area could be used for such activities as hiking,
diving, bird watching, educational field trips, scientific research and monitoring of plant and animal life.
In the U.S. , most biosphere reserves are either national parks (22) or national forests (15). Others are under federal, state, or private
ownership and management. One purpose of a biosphere reserve is to encourage local residents to maintain the variety of plants
and animals representative of the region.
The ideal biosphere reserve has areas locally managed for economic development with respect for the conservation of the
protected areas. These managed areas are used for tourism, agriculture, fishing, forestry, and recreation. The managers of a
protected area encourage the development of a zone of cooperation near the protected areas. This zone contains towns, factories,
farms, fisheries, and other human activities. The economic and cultural development can also help protect the natural areas. One
purpose of a biosphere reserve is to promote economic and cultural development for generations to come.
The biosphere reserve is a place for long term study of changes in the physical, biological, and human environment Scientists and
managers at biosphere reserves cooperate with each other to share data from research and monitoring programs to better
understand nature and mankind's impact on the environment. The biosphere reserve is a place for education and training. Land
management methods can be demonstrated. Local people, landowners, and organizations cooperate on conservation and
development issues affecting the region. The involvement of local people is essential to a biosphere reserve. One purpose of a
biosphere reserve is to foster cooperation among residents and landowners to plan the research, development, conservation, and
education activities of the area.
Steps to Biosphere Reserve Designation
1. A federal, state, or local agency, organization, or individual completes the nomination form. Owners and managers of the
protected lands and local government leaders write letters of support.
2. The completed nomination form and letters of support are sent to the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program (U.S. MAB) for review
3. U.S. MAB sends the recommended nomination to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
office in Paris.
4. The Man and the Biosphere Program office there makes the final approval and awards the biosphere reserve designation.
Model Biosphere Reserve
A biosphere reserve is a unique category of protected area dedicated to solving problems associated with human impacts on
A model biosphere reserve consists of a protected (core) area, a managed use area (buffer zone), and a zone of cooperation
Biosphere reserve status is awarded by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) to those
protected areas that combine scientific research and monitoring, conservation, education, and training. Each site is nominated by its
country MAB Program. The Biosphere reserve designation does not provide any additional international protection to the site
nominated. Together, the 352 biosphere reserves in 87 countries form an international network that represents the world's major
A protected area consists of examples of minimally disturbed ecosystems and has secure domestic legal protection. Only activities
that do not adversely affect the natural habitat are allowed. The managed use area is adjacent to the protected area. Here, activities
such as fishing, hunting, camping and other activities are encouraged.
The zone of cooperation is a regional size area which contains settlements, croplands, managed forests, recreation areas, and
other economic uses characteristic of the region. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation does not recognize the zone of
cooperation. It is a suggested concept to promote the establishment of cooperative programs and partnerships between the
protected area managers and the surrounding community.
Since 1984 the management agencies of a site have been asked to serve as focal points for regional environmental cooperation.
Biosphere reserves thus help to bring together the diverse regional stake-holders so as to find practical strategies to deal with the
complex and interrelated environmental, land use, and socioeconomic concerns affecting a particular region.
The MAB Biosphere Reserve concept serves as a means of exchanging information and ideas regarding the conservation,
sustainable use and management of natural resources in harmony with the needs of local populations.
HOW ARE BIOSPHERE RESERVES ORGANIZED?
To carry out the complementary activities of nature conservation and use of natural resources, Biosphere Reserves are organized
into three interrelated zones, known as the core area, the buffer zone and the transition area.
The protected area: needs to be legally established and give long term protection to the landscape, ecosystem and species it
contains. It should be sufficiently large to meet these conservation objectives. As nature is rarely uniform and as historical land use
constraints exist in many parts of the world, there may be several protected areas in a single Biosphere Reserve to ensure a
representative coverage of the mosaic of ecological systems. Normally, the protected area is not subject to human activity, except
research and monitoring and, as the case may be, to traditional extractive uses by local communities.
Zones of managed use which is clearly delineated and which surrounds or is contiguous to the protected area. Activities are
organized here so that they do not hinder the conservation objectives of the protected area but rather help to protect it, hence the
idea of "buffering". It can be an area for experimental research, for example to discover ways to manage natural vegetation,
croplands, forests, fisheries, to enhance high quality production while conserving natural processes and biodiversity, including soil
resources, to the maximum extent possible. In a similar manner, experiments can be carried out in the area of managed use to
explore how to rehabilitate degraded areas.
An outer transition area: or area of co operation extending outwards, which may contain a variety of agricultural activities, human
settlements and other uses. It is here that the local communities, conservation agencies, scientists, civil associations, cultural
groups, private enterprises and other stakeholders must agree to work together to manage and sustainably develop the area's
resources for the benefit of the people who live there. Given the role that Biosphere Reserves should play in promoting the
sustainable management of the natural resources of the region in which they lie, the transition area is of great economic and social
significance for regional development.
WHY DO WE NEED BIOSPHERE RESERVES?
To conserve biological diversity. Human pressures on land and water resources are drastically reducing the diversity of genes, plant
and animal species, ecosystems and landscapes of the planet. This threatens human welfare, since this biodiversity is the potential
source of foods, fibers, medicines, and raw material for industry and building. It constitutes an irreplaceable wealth for research,
education and recreation for the whole of humankind. The core areas and buffer zones of Biosphere Reserves serve as repositories
to safeguard samples of the biodiversity of the world's major biogeographical regions, and as reference and study sites to help
improve our knowledge on biodiversity.
To maintain healthy ecosystems. Biosphere reserves, which may represent large areas of land and water, contribute significantly to
the maintenance of the life support systems which serve to avoid soil erosion, maintain soil fertility, regulate river flow, recharge
aquifers, recycle nutrients, and absorb air and water pollutants.
To learn about natural systems and how they are changing. Research may be conducted on the structure and dynamics of the
minimally disturbed natural systems of the core areas of Biosphere Reserves, and compared with the functioning of human affected
landscapes in the buffer and transition areas. Such studies, when carried out over the long term, show how these systems may be
changing over time. Setting up similar long term monitoring plots, and harmonizing methods and measurements allows comparison
of results regionally and worldwide. The information thus obtained allows us to better understand global environmental changes.
To learn about traditional forms of land use. People in many parts of the world have devised, over a long period of time, ingenious
land use practices which do not deplete the natural resources and which can provide valuable knowledge for modern production
systems. Biosphere Reserves are areas where such peoples can maintain their traditions, as well as improving their economic well
being through the use of culturally and environmentally appropriate technologies. Moreover, such traditional systems are highly
useful for conserving ancient breeds of livestock and old land races of crops, which are invaluable gene pools for modern
To share knowledge on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way. Research to find land use practices that improve
human well being, without degrading the environment, is a central purpose of Biosphere Reserves. The lessons learned are
transmitted at the field level through on the spot training and demonstrations. They can then be applied in the transition area and in
the region beyond. Government officials, national and foreign scientists, visitors, as well as local community leaders, all benefit from
this experience. The Biosphere Reserve thus serves to share knowledge and skills at the local, national and international levels.
To co operate in solving natural resources problems. A major obstacle to reconciling environment with development is the sectoral
structure of our institutions. Biosphere Reserves provide places where conflicts in interest can be debated by all the stake-holders
concerned: local officials, local landowners, nature conservation associations, government leaders, scientists, local farmers,
fishermen, private enterprises, etc. All must work together to find appropriate co ordination mechanisms to plan and manage the
Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere Reserves therefore provide opportunities for conflict resolution which could be applied in other land
and water development issues.
Although presented schematically as a series of concentric rings, the three zones are usually implemented in many different ways
to accommodate local geographic conditions and constraints. This flexibility allows for creativity and adaptability, and is one of the
greatest strengths of the concept.
WHO IS PARTICIPATING?
At the site level Biosphere Reserves bring together many scientists, local officials, representatives of various national institutions
and the local inhabitants.
At the national level Biosphere Reserves should form an integral part of national biodiversity plans for implementing the Convention
on Biological Diversity, bringing together the institutions involved in nature conservation and in the sustainable use of natural
At the international level Many international governmental and non governmental organizations are associated with the functioning of
the World Network and the application of the concept at the field level. There are thus many projects to promote conservation and
appropriate development in Biosphere Reserves, which are supported by the World Bank, the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
(FAO), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Conservation International and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). There are an
increasing number of projects sponsored by private enterprises, keen to demonstrate their environmental concerns.
Biosphere Reserve contacts and guiding texts are available on Internet. Descriptions of Biosphere Reserves are available from
UNESCO (http://www.unesco.org/mab/br/btrfaq/brfaq.html) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC)
As of October 2000, 91 countries had already established 368 Biosphere Reserves, covering more than 300 million hectares.
WHO BENEFITS FROM BIOSPHERE RESERVES?
These range from local indigenous communities to rural societies, including country home owners. There are various potential
benefits to such people, such as protection of basic land and water resources, a more stable and diverse economic base, additional
employment, more influence in land use decision making, reduced conflict with protected area administrations and interest groups,
a continued opportunity to maintain existing traditions and lifestyles, and a more healthy environment for these local communities
and their children.
Farmers, foresters, fishermen.
Biosphere Reserves provide access to training and demonstration projects on alternative land uses and management strategies
which maintain natural values, such as soil fertility and water quality, which make the best use of the available human and financial
Biosphere Reserves encourage research, for example on ecological processes or on biological diversity. They are areas offering a
growing database on which to build new hypotheses and experiments. In addition, Biosphere Reserves provide long term security
for permanent plots and monitoring activities, which serve to identify longer term trends over short term fluctuations, as may be
caused by changes in climate, etc. Biosphere Reserves also allow for interdisciplinary research and monitoring comparative
studies, and information exchange. They can thus encourage the allocation of national or internationalresearch funds.
Government decision makers and agencies.
Biosphere Reserves provide them with better information on natural resources, and enhanced technical and institutional capabilities
to manage natural resources in a sustainable manner. They help to procure greater public support of nature conservation through
demonstrating the practical benefits involved. They serve as working examples to explore how one can sustainably manage natural
resources at the local and regional levels, and what institutional and legal mechanisms are needed.
The world community.
Biosphere Reserves demonstrate to public opinion and the world community practical ways to resolve land use conflicts and to
ensure protection of biological diversity. They offer opportunities for education, recreation and tourism, and help create a
consciousness of solidarity among all peoples of the world to sustainably manage the biosphere.
WHY A WORLD NETWORK?
Although Biosphere Reserves have very different geographical, economic and cultural contexts, they do have a common interest to
seek concrete solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources, for the benefit of
local people. The World Network fosters exchanges amongst Biosphere Reserves, for example, research results or experience in
resolving specific issues and facilitates co operative activities, including scientific research and monitoring, environmental
education and specialist training. Exchanges can take the form of distributing information material, articles in the international
bulletin, co operative projects, twinning arrangements, swapping personnel, organizing visits, or correspondence by mail or
electronic mail. The World Network is supported by regional or sub regional networks such as in East Asia, or thematic networks,
for example for studying biodiversity. The creation of new sub networks such as these is encouraged. Progressively, it is intended to
link all Biosphere Reserves through modern communication channels.
The World Network is formally constituted by a Statutory Framework, which resulted from the work of the InternationalConference
on Biosphere Reserves, held in Seville (Spain), in March 1995. This Statutory Framework sets out "the rules of the game" of the
World Network and foresees a periodic review of Biosphere Reserves. Activities of the World Network are guided by the "Seville
Strategy for Biosphere Reserves", also drawn up at the Seville Conference. At present, not all existing Biosphere Reserves fully
participate in the Network and these guiding documents will help to improve their functioning in the forthcoming years.
THE ORIGIN OF BIOSPHERE RESERVES
Biosphere Reserves are designed to meet one of the most challenging issues that the World is facing as we move towards the 21st century:
How can we conserve the diversity of plants, animals and micro organisms which make up our living "biosphere" and maintain
healthy natural systems while, at the same time, meet the material needs and aspirations of an increasing number of people? How
can we reconcile conservation of biological resources with their sustainable use?
Current trends in population growth and distribution, increasing demands for energy and natural resources, globalization of the
economy and the effects of trade patterns on rural areas, the erosion of cultural distinctiveness, centralization and difficulty of
access to relevant information, and uneven spread of technological innovations all these paint a sobering picture of environment
and development prospects in the forthcoming years.
These trends cannot be addressed by countries on their own. In 1968, the UNESCO Conference on the Conservation and Rational
Use of the Biosphere was the first major intergovernmental meeting to examine these issues: it gave rise to the launching of the
Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme within UNESCO. The Biosphere Reserve concept was a key component for achieving
MAB's objective to strike a balance between the apparently conflicting goals of conserving biodiversity, promoting economic and
social development and maintaining associated cultural values. Biosphere Reserves were conceived as sites where this objective
was to be tested, refined, demonstrated and implemented. The name "Biosphere Reserve" was chosen in the early1970s to identify
these special, experimental sites with the MAB Programme.
In 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development brought these issues to the attention of
the world's leaders. Agenda 21, the Conventions on Biological Diversity, Climate Change and Desertification were agreed upon to
show the way forward towards what is now termed sustainable development, incorporating care of the environment, living from the
interests of the land without depleting its capital, with greater social equity, including respect for rural communities and their
accumulated wisdom. The global community needs working examples that encapsulate the ideas of the Rio Conference. Such
examples can only work if they express all the social, cultural, spiritual and economic needs of society and are also based on sound
In 1995, the International Conference on Biosphere Reserves, held in Seville (Spain), confirmed that Biosphere Reserves offer such
examples. Biosphere Reserves therefore have a new role to play at the global level. Not only will they be a means for the people who
live and work within and around them to attain a balanced relationship with the natural world, they will also explore how to meet the
needs of society, as a whole, by showing the way to a more sustainable future.
HOW ARE BIOPSHERE RESERVES SELECTED?
Biosphere Reserves cover the great variety of natural areas of the biosphere, going from high mountains to greatly human impacted
plains, from coastal regions and islands to vast inland forests, from the deserts of the tropics to the tundra of the polar regions.
To qualify for designation as a Biosphere Reserve, an area should normally be representative of a major biogeographic
region, including a gradation of human intervention in these systems; contain landscapes, ecosystems or animal and
plant species, or varieties which need to be conserved; provide an opportunity to explore and demonstrate approaches to
"sustainable development" within the larger region where they are located; be of an appropriate size to serve the three
functions of Biosphere Reserves mentioned above; and, have an appropriate zoning system, with a legally constituted
protected areas devoted to long term protection; a clearly identified area of managed use and an outer transition area.
Organizational arrangements should be provided for the involvement and participation of a suitable range of public authorities, local
communities and private interests in the planning and management of the Biosphere Reserve. In the case of large natural areas
which straddle national boundaries, countries are encouraged to co operate in setting up and jointly managing transboundary
National MAB Committees or focal points are responsible for preparing Biosphere Reserve nominations and for involving the
appropriate government agencies, relevant institutions and local authorities in preparing the nomination. Each nomination is
examined by a UNESCO Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves, for recommendation to the International Co ordinating Council
of the MAB Programme. This Council takes a decision on nominations for designation and the Director General of UNESCO notifies
the State concerned of the decision.
Once designated, the appropriate authorities are encouraged to publicize their Biosphere Reserves, for example with a
commemorative plaque and distributing information material indicating this special status.
Biosphere Reserves: Fact Sheet
Susan R. Fletcher
Senior Analyst in International Environmental Policy
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
June 6, 1996
96 517 ENR
"Biosphere Reserve" is a term denoting an area that has been nominated by the locality and the country in which it is located for
participation in the worldwide Biosphere Reserve Program under the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB), and accepted for
such recognition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Areas are nominated and
recognized on the basis of their significance for research and study of representative biological regions of the world. The United
States has 47 biosphere reserves, part of a worldwide network of 324 biosphere reserves in 82 countries.
Biosphere Reserve recognition does not convey any control or jurisdiction over such sites to the United Nations or to any other
entity. The United States and/or state and local communities where biosphere reserves are located continue to exercise the same
jurisdiction as that in place before designation. Areas are listed only at the request of the country in which they are located, and can
be removed from the biosphere reserve list at any time by a request from that country.
The Biosphere Reserve System. The Biosphere Reserve network was established in 1968 as one program area of the Man
and the Biosphere program of UNESCO, which operates through independent national committees in each of the 114 participating
countries. The U.S. MAB program operates under the U.S. National MAB Committee, which coordinates six "directorates" studying
various kinds of environmental and biological regions and issues. One of these six directorates is the Biosphere Reserve
Directorate. The U.S. MAB Committee is composed of scientists from universities, government agencies, and other members from
entities such as private conservation organizations.
The purpose of the Biosphere Reserve program is to promote cooperation and communication among a worldwide network of areas
that would include all the major ecosystem types globally, with sites identified as areas where research on ecological concerns
especially the impacts of human activity on ecological systems could be performed. A major goal of the network is to allow
comparative work in various countries in similar, or dissimilar, areas to assess how the systems work and how they can be used
productively without destroying their essential ecological properties and life support potential.
The goals and functions of biosphere reserves are to enable research, study, and exchange of information among scientists and
policymakers to facilitate these goals:
· Conservation of important biological resources;
· Development of environmentally sound economic growth;
· Support of environmental research, monitoring, education, and training;
· Creation of a framework to bring people together around these goals.
Criteria for Biosphere Reserves.
In order to facilitate research on ecosystems in various stages of protection as well as development, biosphere reserves meet
1: They have a legally protected core area relatively free from outside or human activity in the United States, usually an already
designated park, wilderness or wildlife refuge area;
2: There is a "buffer zone" or zones, surrounding or contiguous to the core area, where human activity is carried out, but generally at
low/rural intensity and types of activity that are compatible with conservation objectives; and
3: Transitionalareas outside the buffer zone where human activity is more intensified, but presumably with some cooperative effort
underway in these adjacent communities to achieve sustainable development in which conservation and economic development
arejointly pursued according to the values and guidance of the local community.
When a local community, state or national MAB committee begins to pursue recognition of the area as a biosphere reserve, these
criteria are usually already being met. It is not expected that steps will have to be taken to create core areas or change activity
patterns after recognition. However, local communities are encouraged to develop cooperative mechanisms to maximize
opportunities for the research and information focus of the Biosphere Reserve program.
Designation Process for Biosphere Reserves. An area to be considered for recognition as a Biosphere Reserve is
nominated locally always with the support of the local community, and the nomination is considered by the U.S. National Committee.
Documentation on the recommended area and how it meets the criteria of the Biosphere Reserve system is assembled by the local
proponents and forwarded by the U.S. MAB program to the International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the MAB Programme in Paris,
which considers the recommendation and makes a decision, which is conveyed to the U.S. MAB Program.
Policy Implications of Designation/Recognition. There are no legally binding requirements on countries or communities
regarding the management of biosphere reserves. Full sovereignty and control over the area continues as it was before recognition.
The main effect of recognition is to publicize the inclusion of an area in the Biosphere Reserve Network, thus making it known that
research on the area's ecosystem type and impacts of adjacent human development on the area is appropriate as part of an
international network of such research. It is expected that research in such areas conducted mainly by private and/or government
scientists will be shared through the Biosphere Reserve program in order to maximize benefits of information exchange. Funding
for the U.S. Biosphere Reserve program is provided by pooled resources from several participating Federal agencies; totaling some
$225,000 in FY 1996, funding goes almost entirely to U.S. programs and local organizations, with some relatively small amounts
supporting research by U.S. scientists in other countries, or assisting developing country scientists to attend MAB meetings.