Printer Friendly

Cascades International Park: a case study.


An alliance of Canadian and American environmental groups proposed a Cascades International Park in 1994. The goal was better coordination of management in the trans-boundary area, guided by emerging conservation biology, which would lead to better resource protection, especially for biodiversity. Regionwide management of federal and Crown land would, it was hoped, result in greater likelihood of conservation of ecological systems than the current management approaches. No new parks were proposed, but rather greater coordination of management of existing protected areas. Three principal ideas were behind the proposal: landscape management; ecosystem management; and integrated management.

The plan failed. It was perceived by some as a threat to private property and even to national security. There was strong opposition to the proposal from people in communities surrounding the proposed park and stewardship areas. Other reasons for failure included poor timing, specifically in the face of shifting political situations and the provocative presentation of the rationale for the proposed park. The key lesson here is that proponents of ideas such as those presented in this paper must be aware of the concerns of those directly or indirectly affected by the proposals and they must make every effort to explain the ideas and proposals and respond to the concerns.

La proposition du parc international Cascades fut faite conjointement par des groupes ecologistes canadiens et americains en 1994. Elle visait une meilleure coordination de la gestion du territoire transfrontalier, inspiree par la biologie de conservation, dans le but d'assurer une protection accrue des ressources, et en particulier de la diversite biologique. On esperait qu'une gestion a l'echelle regionale des terres americaines et des terres de la Couronne favoriserait davantage la protection des ecosystemes que les methodes de gestion pratiquees jusqu'alors. Il n'etait pas question de creer de nouveaux parcs, mais bien d'instaurer une meilleure coordination dans la gestion des aires protegees. Amenagement des paysages, gestion des ecosystemes, gestion integree : tels etaient les trois mots d'ordre du projet.

Le plan fut un echec. Il suscita une forte opposition parmi les communautes voisines des territoires concernes. Certains y ont vu une menace a la propriete privee, voire a la souverainete nationale. Cet echec s'explique egalement par le fait que la proposition fut presentee avec une certaine arrogance et a un moment mai choisi, soit en periode de changements politiques. La principale lecon a tirer de cette experience est la suivante : il est du devoir des defenseurs de tels projets d'expliquer de facon adequate leurs idles et leurs propositions a la population directement ou indirectement touchee; ils doivent absolument se tenir au courant des preoccupations de celle-ci, et les prendre en consideration.


Cascades International Park, regional management, nature conservation


A three-day conference titled "Nature Has No Borders" was convened in Seattle, Washington on March 25-27, 1994. The meeting aimed to explore the idea for an international park and special management area in the North Cascades of Washington and British Columbia. It was organized by a consortium of fourteen organizations from Canada and the United States seeking a way to provide increased protection for the North Cascades ecosystem. While 200 participants from both nations, including scientists and politicians, discussed the idea, a noisy group of protesters gathered outside the meeting. The proposed "Cascades International Park" as some proponents called the as-yet incomplete idea was, said the protesters, a threat to private property and even to national sovereignty. Led by an American anti-environmentalist leader, Chuck Cushman, residents from rural communities around the proposed "park" expressed their fear and anger, attracting considerable media attention. Cushman had written in an "action alert" distributed on March 15 that "The plan is to try to take over this area without legislation by using the Clinton administration to make a treaty with Canada giving up United States sovereignty, control, and traditional uses in the North Cascades Ecosystem" (American Land Rights Association, March 15, 1994).

After the March conference and its protest, the consortium pressed on, releasing their formal proposal in mid-June. They called for linkage of all existing parks and recreation areas as a jointly managed Cascades International Park. Existing agency jurisdictions would continue with increasingly cooperative management. In addition, all U.S. federal and Canadian Crown lands within the ecosystem but outside the international park would be designated a Stewardship Area where increased effort to achieve ecological conservation and restoration goals would be pursued. The emphasis would be on greater cooperation between management agencies both within and between the two countries in an effort to manage the North Cascades as an "ecosystem." The consortium was careful to point out that no new parks would be created anywhere; no private lands would be acquired. The aim was to develop a more region-wide management approach to federal and Crown lands, based on a growing scientific understanding of what would be necessary to conserve natural systems in the area. This regional approach would result in greater likelihood of conservation of ecological systems than current management approaches.

The National Park Service (NPS) in the United States issued a news release to coincide with release of the proposal. "Reacting to a proposal to establish an international park in the North Cascades, the National Park Service today took steps to ensure that the public understands the proposal originated with private citizens and not the National Park Service" (USNPS, June 14, 1995). The release noted that the NPS had "co-sponsered an academic conference (...) at which the subject of international cooperation including a possible international park to protect the North Cascades was discussed." But, readers were assured, no "general agreement or direction emerged from the conference, and the National Park Service has not subsequently pursued the matter."

Reading this NPS release, proponents of the international park knew the idea was in trouble. A poll taken in December of 1994 (Elway Research, Inc.) indicated the public supported the idea by a 3-1 margin, but the political context had changed drastically since the spring of 1994. Strident anti-park voices had been raised such as that of activist Don Kehoe who was quoted as saying in a meeting in Mount Vernon, Washington, a community in the region, that "This park calls for the first physical breakup of the United States. It will eliminate borders. It will destroy the free and constitutional Republic of the United States of America" (Nemeth, October 30, 1994). Less strident editorials from newspapers in the region, like the Bellingham Herald, took the position that "There's no need for an international park. U.S. and Canadian officials can try to agree on common principles that will preserve their respective parks and wildernesses without creating a formal international park" (Bellingham Herald, June 26, 1995). At the national level in the U.S. a conservative Congress had been elected in the 1994 midterm elections. Support from federal officials, present in early stages of proposal development, evaporated. The NPS news release indicated it was keeping to safe political ground. If, as the principal U.S. agency managing the core of the area involved, it were not supportive, the proposal stood little chance of being achieved. Proponents continued to recruit support and encouraged guest editorials in regional newspapers, but by the end of 1995 the likelihood of success seemed so slight that they gave up on the idea and turned their energies in more promising directions.

Historical Background

The region involved in this proposal has a long history of resource protection and exploitation, and one of the ironies of this case is that because so much land had been protected, more seemed necessary. The British Columbia portion of the area contains two provincial parks and two recreation areas, while in the United States there are a national park, three recreation areas, and seven wilderness areas. The consequence of this level of protection is that "in today's GNCE (Greater North Cascade Ecosystem) still reside every (known) species that was here before white settlement" (Friedman and Lindholdt, 1993:2). Some species, like the grizzly, have been extirpated from some parts of the ecosystem, but habitat for them remains there, and management could restore what Friedman calls the "dance of all partners" to these areas. Such restoration was one of the goals of the international park proposal.

In the U.S. part of the region, resource conservation can be traced back to the 1890s when the first federal forest reserves were proclaimed. These reserves became national forests in 1907, and portions of the national forests became primitive and wilderness areas beginning with the North Cascades Primitive Area in the 1930s. The North Cascades National Park, one of a series of proposals for national parks in the area, was established by Congress in 1968, an Act which designated most of the Primitive Area outside the park as the Pasayten Wilderness. Additional legislation in 1984 and 1988 added other parts of the region to the National Wilderness Preservation System, bringing the total to 2,554,047 acres (1,029,979 hectares) of officially designated wilderness.

In British Columbia, the history of conservation reaches back to 1931 and the Three Brothers Mountain Reserve. This became Manning Provincial Park in 1941, and was followed in 1968 by Cathedral Provincial Park. The Skagit Recreation Area was formed in 1973 adjacent to the western boundary of Manning Park, and a Cascade Recreation Area north of the park was designated in 1987. The British Columbia government has also established several small ecological reserves in the Cascade region. Total area conserved in the British Columbia portion of the North Cascades was 153,180 hectares (328,355 acres).

The idea that management of nature in the region should be international began to be explored in the 1970s when the North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC) discussed "international wilderness." In 1984, NCCC called again for cooperative park and wilderness planning across the border. At this time a proposed raising of Ross Dam on the Skagit River, that would flood land valued by environmental groups on both sides of the border, led to international opposition to the dam proposal. The Boundary Waters, Ross Dam Treaty was signed that year by the United States and Canada which involved agreement that the dam would not be raised and, among other provisions, established a Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission and Fund which was directed to give "high priority ... to the establishment of a firm connection between North Cascades National Park in the United States and Manning Provincial Park in the Province of British Columbia, forming an International Park ..." (NPCA 1994: 4).

The 1988 North Cascades National Park General Management Plan prepared by the National Park Service (NPS 1987: 23) did not contain mention of an international park, but it did address international cooperation. According to this plan, management of the NPS complex was to be coordinated with the management of lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, Seattle City Light, British Columbia Parks, and others to provide visitors with a comprehensive overview of the region. The complex was also intended to offer a variety of interrelated visitor experiences, and to maximize the ability to sustain a representative and ecologically healthy sample of this unique ecosystem for the future.

Also in 1988 Congress approved the Washington Park Wilderness Act (Public Law 100-688) which made most of the North Cascades National Park Complex part of the National Wilderness Preservation system. Congressional discussion of this Act indicated that a higher level of wilderness resource protection was desired than was provided by the national park and national recreational area designations then in place. Development plans for the National Park Complex had, over the years, included proposals that might change the wild character of some areas. The intent of this legislation was to assure that the natural status of the three parks (Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks were also included in the Bill) be ensured.

In April 1990, the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission discussed the idea of an international park or biosphere reserve for the area, and recognized that the idea would be difficult to sell to the local community. They concluded that considerable education would be necessary, and formed a working group to explore the idea. They renewed their exploration in 1992 and at this time the National Parks and Conservation Association and the North Cascades Conservation Council began considering what sort of process might lead to an international park proposal. The Cascades International Alliance formed and began meeting, and the NPCA received a grant to organize a conference of environmental groups from the United States and Canada. This was the conference, convened in 1994, at which the protesters appeared. The difficulty of "selling" an international park to the local communities, recognized by the Endowment Commission four years earlier, was more serious and complex than even they had anticipated.

The Proposal and Its Rationale

As noted earlier, what was proposed in 1995 involved no new parks but rather greater coordination of management of existing conservation areas. The goal would be greater "integration" of the management of conservation lands in the region. The proposal never reached a stage of detailed specifications as to what management schemes would be involved in this integrated approach. A map was released indicating that the area involved reached from the Coquihalla, Tulameen, and Similkameen Rivers in British Columbia on the north end, to the Snoqualmie and Yakima Rivers in the south (Northwest Ecosystem Alliance 1994). The actual international park included the North Cascades National Park Complex in the U.S., and the Skagit and Cascades Provincial Recreation Areas along with the Manning and Cathedral Provincial Parks in British Columbia. Various "restoration areas" were identified in surrounding British columbia protected areas and U.S. conservation areas, all of which would be integrated into a "Cascades Stewardship Area." Management objectives were identified for the stewardship area and included "manage to achieve high quality habitat and security for wide-ranging mammals, including lynx, wolverine, grizzly bear, and gray wolf" and "reduce fragmentation as needed to restore habitat integrity for wildlife and control stream sedimentation." These were two of seventeen objectives described on the back of the map depicting the area of the proposal.

The rationale for all of this was well summarized in a talk at the 1994 conference by Karr (NPCA 1994: 58-59):

In short, setting aside reserves is not adequate to protect landscapes from human actions. A more integrative approach is needed to protect regional resources and human communities that depend on those resources.... In regional landscapes such as the North Cascades, four major classes of land use are essential to protect the interests of human society: commodity (agriculture or tree plantations); protective (natural areas preserving biological integrity and water quality); compromise (combination of protective and commodity, such as harvest of fruit or wildlife from natural forest); and urban-industrial (the built environment).

All these land management options must be included because human society depends on the benefits that each yields to the regional landscape and to human society. The difficulty will be defining how lands are allocated to these four use classes and how much of each kind is necessary in a regional landscape. Perhaps more difficult will be deciding how each tract of land is used.

The Cascades International Park initiative is a case of trying to build on nearly a century of conservation effort that provided a significant component of the "protective" element that is absent in so many areas. While none of the areas were protected with the conservation of biological diversity in mind the circumstances, in the minds of international park proponents, provided a critically important and unusual opportunity to build a system that would allow a high level of "stewardship".

Several principal ideas were behind the proposal. One was landscape management, the idea that coordinated planning and management in large areas that have similar and repeatable patterns of physical features, habitats, and human communities could lead to achievement of significant conservation objectives (Salwasser et al. 1993). A second was ecosystem management, a science-based approach that conserves species and genetic diversity while maintaining the structural and functional integrity of ecological systems and providing economic benefits that can be sustained indefinitely (Karr 1959). A third was integrated management, the idea that multiple management objectives could be pursued across conventional boundaries, that multiple objectives could be integrated on landscapes that had, in the past, been managed for a limited set of objectives. Thus a "working forest" could contribute to restoration of native plant communities even as commodity production was carried out upon it. A fourth principle was sustainability, an approach to providing for the needs of the present generation without compromising the potential to meet the needs of future generations.

International park proponents did not hide the fact that their proposal was a response to perceived limitations of traditional approaches to management in the region. Road-building associated with extensive logging had caused soil erosion, slope failure, and damage to streams. Logging had degraded and fragmented wildlife habitat. Overgrazing of livestock had impacted streams and fisheries and damaged plant communities throughout the region. If the protection and stewardship objectives of the proposal were to be achieved, changes in behaviour of those who used the land would be necessary. The proposal never reached the point of detailing just what these changes would need to be, but the material released by the Cascade International Alliance left no doubt that changes would be necessary.

Lessons Learned From Failure

Why did the Cascades International Park initiative fail, and what lessons can be learned from the episode? The most obvious reason for failure might seem to be bad timing. The proposal happened to be at a critical stage just when national politics in the United States took a conservative turn. The extent of the shift of power in the Congress took many by surprise, so it may be argued that nothing could have been done about this. No strategy could have avoided the political difficulties that emerged. The Seattle conference in the spring of 1994 heard talks by prominent U.S. and Canadian politicians and resource managers, so proponents were not deluded in thinking they had the political base from which to work. The political winds shifted for reasons beyond their control and blew their plan off course.

This is not, of course, the whole story. Even if national and state politics had not taken the turn they did, the opposition in the communities around the proposed park and stewardship areas would have been significant. More than a decade earlier a proposal had been floated for an innovative international park in the San Juan and Gulf Islands to the west and adjacent to the Greater North Cascades Ecosystem, and this idea had met not only powerful opposition but ridicule. It had died quickly. No one wanted to even explore such an idea at that time. The proposals were not comparable because in the former case the land involved was mostly private and the "management" would have been focused on the marine interstices of the archipelago and on controlling development. Yet the vehemence of the response to the idea of big government constraining people's freedoms, even for such good causes as scenic preservation and recreation, in that earlier case, should have tipped off Cascades International Park proponents that much groundwork would be necessary to achieve success in their initiative. After their proposal had died, or at least become dormant, the leaders of the effort admitted this and changed their approach to new projects.

The anti-park activists did not appear on the scene unprovoked. The proposal may have been based on solid ideas that were emerging out of conservation biology and environmentalism, but the presentation of the rationale for the proposed park was provocative. In a book published in 1993 by the Greater Ecosystem Alliance (now called the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance) Friedman, the leader of the Alliance, presented a vision of an international park in the closing essay. He was very specific, writing of drainages currently outside protected areas that should be included in the park. He also suggested that a habitat corridor should link the North Cascades with the British Columbia Coast Range. Freidman (1993: 166) wrote that:

Lands in the international park would of course be off limits to logging, ranching, and mining. Domestic grazing should also be eliminated from adjacent U.S. wilderness areas, including the Pasayten where it presently continues. Watershed protections should be put in place on all ownerships, to protect salmon runs.

While all of this might be reasonable and necessary to achieve the goals of "protecting an international ecosystem", as the book was subtitled, such ideas were guaranteed to inflame opposition from rural communities.

Also included in this book, and later published in a glossy, poster-sized edition, was a map of the "Greater North Cascades Ecosystem." A bold black line reached from Everett to Wenatchee to Omak in the United States, then crossed the international boundary to Princeton, Hope, and ultimately Vancouver in British Columbia. Within the lines fell Bellingham, Skykomish, Leavenworth, Winthrop and other communities. The map was, of course, an attempt to depict the extent of the ecosystem, but a casual perusal of it by someone worrying that their freedoms were under siege by big government might and did lead to the conclusion that this was the boundary of the park. Here was undeniable evidence of the extent of the conspiracy to "take over" their land. Anti-park activists, looking for ammunition in their campaign, had all they needed with this map, and Cushman and others made good use of it. A conservative politician from Bellingham, for instance, brandished the map at the Seattle anti-park rally as clear evidence that her community was in trouble.

This same map, with the ecosystem boundary this time marked in red, was boldly presented in a publication of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (co-published with the provocatively titled "World Wilderness Committee") in the spring of 1994, before the Cascades International Alliance had firmed up the details of the proposal. Eighty thousand copies were printed and the world (or at least the potentially affected part of it) knew that "new protected areas" were the goal. Also, new "special management areas" were being proposed, though no details were offered. Readers also learned that the Wilderness Committee was demanding that "selection logging systems replace clear-cut logging" and "a ban on the export of unprocessed raw logs and cants in order to increase local manufacturing jobs and enable more wilderness preservation". All of these were reasonable goals, but readers might wonder what such demands had to do with an international park.

All of these maps and publications were fodder for an intentional effort to rally opposition. The rhetoric was, in places, inflammatory. Diverse objectives were lumped together, suggesting at least to some that international park proponents had an agenda well beyond that stated up front. Opponents to initiatives of environmentalists in the Pacific Northwest region had long suspected that those bent on preserving the environment had a master plan. They believed that environmentalists "locked up" as much land as they could under wilderness legislation in a series of efforts culminating in the Washington State Wilderness Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-406) which designated 1,013,980 additional acres statewide, 607,204 in the Greater North Cascades Ecosystem (this added to previously established wilderness). Next, in the view of these critics, the environmentalists conjured up the northern spotted owl to overcome the "release language" in the 1984 legislation which stated "National Forest areas not designated wilderness or for special management by this Act are released for multiple-use management and need not be managed to protect their suitability for wilderness designation ..." The listing of the owl in 1990 under the Endangered Species Act set in motion a process that resulted in significant reductions in timber harvest in the range of the owl. Then, building on the biodiversity protection approach involved in protecting the owl, came the proposal for an international park, integrated and "ecosystem" management, and a whole new set of reasons to reduce the uses of public lands. While no such master plan existed, proponents of the international park poured fuel on the fire of such thinking with their rhetoric. All of this led to opposition sufficient to kill the idea in 1995.

The lesson here is that proponents of ideas like these must be aware of the concerns of those directly or indirectly affected by them and make every effort to explain the ideas and proposals and to answer their questions. They must refrain from "loading" a proposal with secondary objectives, from using the opportunity provided by a good idea to pursue other ideas. A clear, straightforward and related set of objectives must be stated and pursued. While all opposition cannot be eliminated, the opportunity for opponents to whip up hysteria can be minimized. Careful avoidance of provocative rhetoric and extensive work with communities in the region can reduce the opportunity for outside agitators to come into the community and magnify what may be limited opposition. Face-to-face meetings with genuinely concerned citizens which demonstrates respect for their concerns will reduce the likelihood of opponents successfully demonizing proponents of ideas like the international park.

The effort to increase protection in the Cascades trans-boundary area is not over. The proposal for an international park may rise again. Work continues on other fronts. As this is written, Friedman and colleagues are raising funds to protect critical lynx habitat just south of the boundary by buying the timber rights to 25,000 acres of state timberland. Their approach to this effort has demonstrated that they have learned all of the lessons mentioned above, and more. Opposition has been present, but the Loomis Forest Campaign has avoided inflammatory rhetoric, focused on a clear and limited goal, worked with the communities, and faced head-on concerns of citizens in the region involved. Ultimate success depends on raising $13 million in a short time and is uncertain as of this writing, but the campaign clearly indicates that the work for protection of biodiversity in the Greater North Cascades is ongoing.


Cushman, C. 1994. "Action Alert." American Land Rights Association, March 15, 1994.

Editorial. 1995. "Joint Park Isn't Needed." Bellingham Herald, June 26, 1995.

Elway Research, Inc. 1994. Special Report. Reeport Prepared for the Greate Ecosystem Alliance. Bellingham, WA: Greater Ecosystem Alliance.

Friedman, M. and P. Lindholdt. 1993. Cascadia Wild: Protecting An International Ecosystem. Bellingham, WA: Greater Ecosystem Alliance.

Karr, J.R. 1994. "Beyond Parks: Protecting the North Cascades Landscape." In Nature Has No Borders. Washington, DC: National Parks and Conservation Association.

Nemeth, M.A. 1994. "Conspiracy in Some Eyes." Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Washington, October 30, 1994.

National Parks and Conservation Association. 1994. Nature Has No Borders: A Conference on the Protection and Management of the Northern Cascades Ecosystem. Washington, DC: National Parks and Conservation Association.

Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. 1994. "Map: Cascades International Park and Stewardship Area." In Nature Has No Borders. Washington, DC: National Parks and Conservation Association.

Salwasser, H., D.W. MacCleery and T.A. Snellgrove. 1993. "An Ecosystem Perspective on Sustainable Forestry and New Directions for the U.S. National Forest System." In Defining Sustainable Forestry. G.H. Aplet, N. Johnson, J.T. Olson, and V. Alaric Sample, eds. Washington, DC: Island Press.

United States, One-hundredth Congress, Second Session, November 16, 1988. U.S. Statutes at Large, 100-688, Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988. Washington, DC: United States Congress.

United States Department of Interior, National Park Service. 1987. General Management Plan and Environmental Assessment: North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Denver Service Center: Denver, CO.

-- News Release: North Cascades International Park a Private Proposal. Seattle, WA, June 14, 1995.

Western Canada Wilderness Committee. 1994. Cascade International Park. Vancouver: Western Canada Wilderness Committee Education Report Vol. 13, No.4, Spring.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Wilfrid Laurier University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Miles, John C.
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Making ecosystem-based science into guidelines for ecosystem-based management: the Greater Fundy Ecosystem experience.
Next Article:Conservation and management of ecosystems within and without protected natural areas in Baja California, Mexico.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters