top Yellowstone Chief Ranger Tim Reid in Kruger National Park in South Africa. middle and bottom Deputy Superintendent Steve Iobst traveled to Kunlun National Park in China.
Yellowstone National Park staff are also invited to share their knowledge abroad. In some cases—as in Yellowstone Chief Ranger Tim Reid’s recent visit to Kruger National Park in South Africa—the need is for technical expertise. Because of his specific skill set and the many similarities between Yellowstone and African parks, Reid was an invitational speaker at a wildlife security specialist workshop focused on anti-poaching technology and strategies for African protected areas. “These are huge landscapes that are relatively intact or critical parts of ecosystems, with local community issues, migratory wildlife populations that transcend jurisdictional boundaries, and ecotourism economies,” says Reid. These similarities have fostered a long history of sharing between Yellowstone and African parks. In other cases, international parks seek big picture advice on park development and management, such as Iobst’s visit to the developing Kunlun National Park in the Qinghai Province of China. The founders of Kunlun were interested in both establishing a new national park to be the first in a national system of parks and in fostering a greater conservation ethic in China. The members of the U.S. team consulted on topics related to park systems, resource protection, and tourism infrastructure. Iobst believes that “helping other countries protect unique and significant natural and cultural resources before they’re lost” is important. He also believes it is important to help parks through their individual processes without being too dominating in the American approach. “Each country is in a different stage, and it’s important to help them find solutions that work for their particular scenario.” This kind of cultural exchange is both challenging and rewarding. There are often striking differences in culture, government, and language. “The whole protected area concept in Africa is really different,” says Reid. “Their government and judiciary systems are different, as well as their societal views of wildlife.” In the U.S. there is a strong sense of public land and wildlife ownership that is not yet fully developed in other places. In the case of Kunlun National Park, there is not yet a national system of parks. A rapidly growing middle class in China is creating demand for domestic tourism and the need to create parks that protect resources as well as provide for visitation. Iobst reports that exchanges with international parks are very rewarding. The appreciation for Yellowstone staff from the parks they work with is overwhelming, and it is easy to see real progress from these consultations. It also provides affirmation for what the National Park Service does well. Wallace Stegner famously called national parks “the best idea we ever had.” NPS staff participating in exchanges with parks abroad are not just providing technical experience, but are sharing the national park idea—and the American ideals that parks represent—around the world. Jenny Golding is a former director of education for the Yellowstone Association. She currently freelances from her home in Gardiner, Montana, on the border of Yellowstone National Park.