An Investigation of the Critical Events and Influential Factors to the Evolution of the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program

Environ Manage. 2018 Apr;61(4):545-562. doi: 10.1007/s00267-017-0988-z. Epub 2018 Jan 20.


The UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program has operated for 45 years as an international program that started in the 1970s to conserve biotic communities and provide areas for research, education, and training. The program later evolved in the 1990s to address social and environmental issues in a sustainable manner across a landscape. This program was one of the first efforts that recognized the importance of working beyond park and protected area boundaries and the need to sustain livelihoods as much as the resources. In the MAB program's infancy, the United States (U.S.) was a major advocate and leader with more than 45 biosphere reserves, most of them established in or around 1976. Yet, many political, economic, and other external factors influenced the U.S. MAB involvement in subsequent years. Consequently, the U.S. has remained largely inactive in the international MAB network for the past fifteen years until a recent push to revive the program under the leadership of the State Department and the National Park Service. Through in-depth research on two longterm U.S. biosphere reserves, this paper provides a description of the key events impacting the U.S. MAB program over the past several decades and discusses the influential role of politics, a public image, and the perceptions of international designations. Through the lessons presented in this paper, recommendations are provided to support the revival of the MAB program in the U.S.

Keywords: UNESCO; biosphere reserve; governance.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Leadership
  • Program Evaluation
  • Research
  • United Nations*
  • United States