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Many world heritage sites facing development pressures

West- and central African sites among the most threatened

Mesa Verde, well-protected as a national park, is Colorado’s only world heritage site. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Many of the planet’s 217 world heritage natural sites are facing increasing threats, including oil and gas development, and need more protection, conservation leaders said at an occasion marking the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

The 217 sites protect more than 250 million hectares of land and sea in more than 90 countries.

Nearly 8 percent of the 217 natural World Heritage Sites are on a danger list, while another 25 percent are affected by serious conservation issues. More than 60 percent of West and Central African sites are on the Danger list, and one in four of these iconic areas are threatened by planned mining, oil and gas projects. This includes Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of the world’s last mountain gorillas.

“Too many World Heritage sites are left with few resources to ensure their proper management, risking their role as natural flagships for the protection of critical habitats and unique wildlife vital to the future of our planet,” said Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Many face a barrage of challenges, not least from mining and oil exploration.”

The IUCN wants to to see more resources focused on conservation in the next 10 years in order to uphold the high standards set by the designation.

Some conservation leaders said this year’s decision by the World Heritage governing body to not include several sites on the world heritage danger list was step backwards. Inclusion on the list shouldn’t be seen as a black mark, but as a way of drawing attention and providing support to sites at critical risk of losing the wildlife and landscapes for which they first gained global recognition.

“The success of World Heritage has been the way it has recognized exceptional places and focused international attention on their protection,” Badman said. “But there are worrying signs that the Convention could become less effective if it does not uphold its standards and it will need decisive action to remain relevant to the growing conservation needs of the 21st century.”

The IUCN was instrumental in creating the World Heritage Convention in 1972 and has a unique advisory role in supporting the Convention in achieving conservation results. Natural heritage sites are recognized as among the world’s most precious environments.

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