President Trump isn’t exactly shy about his attitude towards protected nature areas in the US, so the news that he is de-listing even more shouldn't really come as a surprise.
The news came after the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme meeting in Paris this week, where it announced 23 new sites to the World Network of Biosphere, but that it had also granted the US’ request to remove 17 of theirs.
Biosphere reserves are "Science for Sustainability support sites" – designated areas of land, marine, or coastal ecosystems with the aim of developing solutions to reconcile biodiversity conservation with its sustainable use. They are nominated by governments and are under the control of the state or province they are in, so the US is within its rights to remove any or all of the reserves.
However, in 20 years only 18 sites have been removed from the list (by seven different countries), so removing 17 of the US’ 47 in one go is without precedent.
The reserves removed include forests from Florida to Montana, nature reserves from California to Alaska, research centers in both the mountains of Colorado and the prairies of Kansas, and the US-owned Virgin Islands.
According to a statement, National Geographic reports, the 17 sites withdrew voluntarily, but some are planning on re-entering at a later date, 19 reserves are still fully designated UNESCO sites and 10 are “under review”.
In the same statement, Vernon Gilbert, a founding member of the MAB program and head of the US Biosphere Reserves Association, said that since the ‘90s there have been US advocacy groups who have accused the UN of making “land grabs” and of being a threat to US property rights and sovereignty. This view gained traction after Republican Richard Pombo spearheaded a congressional investigation into the affiliation, hindering US participation ever since.
This has prompted the George Wright Society, a US non-profit conservation organization dedicated to bridging science and natural resource management, to release this statement:
"A large, almost bewildering variety of charges have been alleged about biosphere reserves. Many of these charges revolve around a basic fear and distrust of the United Nations. This category of objections includes such claims as the United Nations is poised to invade the United States, confiscate American land, impose some kind of 'new world order' on citizens here, and so forth. There is no truth whatsoever to these charges."
The 23 new world sites are in as diverse a range of countries as Benin, Denmark, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Paraguay, South Africa, Sudan, and Russia, with four straddling the borders of Benin/Togo, Dominican Republic/Haiti, Ecuador/Peru, and Russia/Kazakhstan, showing that interest in science and the environment can make allies out of anyone.