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A biosphere reserve is a voluntary, cooperative, conservation reserve created to protect the biological and cultural diversity of a region while promoting sustainable economic development. It is a place of cooperation, education and experimentation, where scientists and managers can share research data to better understand man's impact on nature, and where local communities, environmental groups, and economic interests can work collaboratively on conservation and development issues.

Biosphere reserves are established under the auspices of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB). The mission of the MAB Programme, as established in 1974, is to achieve a sustainable balance between the sometimes-conflicting goals of conserving biological diversity, promoting economic development, and maintaining cultural values. Biosphere reserves are the sites where this objective is tested, refined, demonstrated and implemented.

In order to be designated a biosphere reserve, a candidate ecosystem must be nominated by a national government and approved by the UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Programme. In order to satisfy UNESCO's program requirements, each biosphere reserve must contain three elements:

  • Core Areas: These areas are securely protected sites for conserving biological diversity, monitoring minimally disturbed ecosystems, and undertaking non-destructive research and other low-impact uses (such as education).

  • Buffer Zones: These areas must be clearly identified, and usually surround or adjoin the Core Areas. Buffer Zones may be used for cooperative activities compatible with sound ecological practices, including environmental education, recreation, ecotourism and applied and basic research.

  • Transition, or Cooperation, Zones: These areas may contain towns, farms, fisheries, and other human activities and are the areas where local communities, management agencies, scientists, non-governmental organizations, cultural groups, economic interests, and other stakeholders work together to manage and sustainably develop the area's resources.

The zone concept is designed to be flexible and may be implemented in a variety of ways in order to address local needs and conditions. In the United States, most of the 47 biosphere reserves (the most in any one country) include a national park or other federally protected land as a core area, surrounded by the necessary managed buffer zone and transition zone. Biosphere reserves in the United States include Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park (which adjoins Canada's Waterton National Park, itself part of the biosphere reserve), the Everglades, the New Jersey Pinelands, and the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Worldwide, there are 368 biosphere reserves in 91 countries.

last revised 5/3/2000

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