Glacier National Park was recently on the world stage as park superintendent Jeff Mow and U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dan Fagre attended the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, in November.
Mow gave several panel talks during the weeklong event, which attracted park and resource managers from across the globe. Mow's travel expenses were paid through the Glacier National Park Conservancy. He was one of only three national park superintendents from the U.S. to attend the conference, which included more than 6,000 participants from more than 170 countries.
With its melting glaciers making nearly continuous headlines, Glacier park is well-known, Mow said.
"Glacier really does have an international reputation," he said.
It was also the first International Peace Park, teaming up with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada in 1933. That accomplishment "still resonates on a global scale," Mow noted.
Creation of America's large Western parks was relatively easy compared to what countries are facing today. There was little settlement and infrastructure in place when places like Yellowstone and Glacier were set aside for conservation, he said.
Today, countries find themselves building parks in layers, with entire villages included. An African park, for example, might include a village, a buffer zone and a core area for conservation. Many parks in other countries don't have the hard boundaries the National Park System has in the U.S.
National parks in the U.S. are also comparatively well-funded and have the resources to do research, which in turn helps with management decisions. In the Congo, where the threat of poaching can oftentimes be extreme, some parks have a tough time just buying shoes for their rangers and bullets for their guns, Fagre said.
Many parks in developing countries rely on non-governmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund just to remain solvent. Others have very little infrastructure. The entrance at Sagarmatha National Park, which encompasses Mount Everest in Nepal, has a tattered sign under a weathered kiosk with a few rules written on it.
"We're viewed as the model to what others aspire to, to some extent," Mow noted.
Countries also have parks for economic benefit. Parks in Costa Roca, for example, help the local economy by drawing tourists and bird watchers.
Glacier Park is also seen as a model transboundary park - management in Waterton and Glacier are quite similar despite the international boundary, with similar and oftentimes cooperative research.
Mow said he would like to see Waterton and Glacier become even more cooperative as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. He suggested the possibility of a "bi-park pass."
Mow also suggested turning the former Sen. Burton K. Wheeler property into a retreat area for research scientists and other educational events. The Wheeler cabins on the shores of Lake McDonald recently were acquired by the Park Service. Glacier Park would have to reach out to its nonprofit partners to fund these ideas, Mow said.