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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley


Parks Stewardship Forum delivers interdisciplinary information and problem-solving techniques across all topics relevant to the world’s parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation. The journal represents all areas of inquiry relevant to understanding and management of parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation, including but not limited to the natural sciences, cultural resources-related disciplines, social sciences, and interdisciplinary perspectives. 

New Perspectives on Geoconservation in Protected and Conserved Areas

Issue cover
Cover Caption: The precipitous rock spires of Meteora World Heritage Site in Greece have a complex geological history. Over the centuries a number of Eastern Orthodox monasteries were built atop them, and today’s World Heritage Site recognizes this cultural history as part of the overall geoheritage. | STATHIS FLOROS

The featured theme articles in this issue of PSF chart recent developments—in both thinking and action—on geodiversity and geoheritage conservation. The geoconservation agenda of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is advancing, and  geoconservation is now well established in geoscience dialogue and practice. The next step is to build upon this progress to make geoconservation an increasingly relevant and integral component of nature conservation and human society agendas.

GUEST EDITOR: Roger Crofts

Points of View

Who You Gonna Call?

A "Letter from Woodstock" editorial column about a recent act of vandalism to a monument at Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, what the incident says about the current state of American politics, and how the damage to the monument was repaired by a team of National Park Service specialists.

Dr. Lisa White, geology guru: A conversation about JEDI

A "Coloring Outside the Lines" editorial column interviewing the paleontologist and educator Dr. Lisa White, who is one of the few African American women in the field of geoscience.

Featured Theme Articles

Progress and future challenges for geoconservation in protected and conserved areas

This paper introduces the set of essays in this issue of Parks Stewardship Forum charting the development of thinking and action on geodiversity and geoheritage conservation. It spells out progress to date on a number of fronts, including defining terms and advancing the geoconservation agenda in IUCN, leading to the conclusion that geoconservation is now well established in geoscience dialogue and practice. Future challenges are set out in some detail in the hope that geoconservation will become an increasingly relevant and integral component of nature conservation and human society agendas. Three areas of challenges are highlighted: making sure that geoconservation specialists have clear and consistent approaches to the classification and assessment of geoheritage assets and their conservation; mainstreaming geoconservation in biodiversity and nature conservation dialogues; and relating geoconservation to all aspects of human society and the emerging people-based agendas.

Celebrating 50 years of global initiatives promoting geoconservation and geological heritage

The last five decades have been crucial for the development of geoconservation and for the recognition that some geological features are at risk and need to be properly protected and managed. This recognition is happening at two levels. On one hand, the rise of awareness in certain countries of the importance of geoconservation is pushing international organizations to include this topic in their policies and strategies. On the other hand, this change at the international level is contributing to more countries understanding that they need to integrate geoconservation policies in their statutory systems and create effective measures to guarantee the conservation of geological heritage. This paper presents an overview of the main international efforts made during the last 50 years that have significantly changed the scenario in regard to the place of geoconservation inside the global nature conservation agenda.

Geodiversity and the ecosystem approach

The term “biodiversity” has become well known in recent years, but much less so is the non-living or abiotic diversity of the planet, known since the 1990s as its “geodiversity.” In simple terms, geodiversity is the variety of the earth’s rocks, minerals, fossils, topography, landforms, physical processes, soils, and hydrological features. Geodiversity is part of the planet’s natural capital assets. In turn, natural capital provides goods and services to society identified through the “ecosystem services” approach. This paper gives several examples of how geodiversity brings many benefits to society that deserve to be better known by the public.

Conserving nature’s stage provides a foundation for safeguarding both geodiversity and biodiversity in protected and conserved areas

This article outlines the fundamental connections between geodiversity and biodiversity by providing a geoconservation perspective on the concept of “conserving nature’s stage” as a basis for safeguarding both geodiversity and biodiversity in the face of environmental and climate change. Conserving nature’s stage—the physical environment in which species exist—provides a means of developing more integrated approaches to nature conservation, delivering benefits for both geodiversity and biodiversity conservation, and incorporating key principles of geoconservation in the management of protected and conserved areas.

Climate change will challenge the management of geoheritage in protected and conserved areas

Climate change presents challenges for the management of geoheritage in protected and conserved areas at all scales from individual geosites to whole landscapes, affecting all areas of the planet. Direct impacts will principally arise through the effects of climate changes on geomorphological processes and vegetation cover, while indirect impacts will result from hard structures engineered to mitigate risks from natural hazards. Options for mitigation and adaptation should as far as possible work with nature.

The potential role of the geosciences in contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations adopted a series of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 individual targets with the aim of achieving these within 15 years, i.e., by 2030. These ambitious goals include ending poverty and hunger, facilitating sustainable economic growth and social development, and protecting the environment. Using Gill and Smith (2021) as a major source, this paper outlines the potential role that the geosciences and geoscientists as geopractitioners can play in contributing to the achievement of the SDGs.

Communicating geoheritage: Interpretation, education, outreach

Communicating geoheritage is one of the most active areas for new ideas to support a long-term relationship with visitors and a broader digital community of supporters. Communicating geoheritage starts with interpretation to build understanding; progresses through education to build a deeper appreciation; and uses public outreach during decision-making to foster stewardship, protection, and a conservation ethic.

Keywords: Geoheritage; communication; interpretation; education

Geoconservation initiatives for caves, karst, and springs

In this paper the focus is on the surface landforms that are found on carbonate karst, on caves within carbonate karst, and on the springs that discharge from carbonate karst. Around 20.3 million km2 of the earth’s land surface is characterized by the presence of carbonate rocks. Most is potentially karst. These areas have distinctive surface landforms of high geodiversity value, together with over 10,000 km of cave passages, most of the largest springs on Earth, and many smaller springs. Karst areas and caves commonly have high aesthetic value and high biodiversity value, hosting many endemic and threatened plant and animal species. Carbonate karsts are present in 75 World Heritage Properties, 67 UNESCO Global Geoparks, 151 Biosphere Reserves, and 124 Ramsar Sites. However, the areal extent of karst in these and other protected areas, and the extent of cave and karst geodiversity, are rarely documented. There is a clear need for inventories to inform geoconservation. Two recent IUCN resolutions have important implications for cave and karst geoconservation, and new guidelines for cave and karst protection will be published in 2022.

Threats go both ways in the management of volcanic protected areas

Volcanoes are true wonders of the planet. Managers of volcanic protected areas face the dual challenge of protecting the volcanic landscape from overuse and damage, and protecting visitors and local residents from the range of geophysical risks presented by volcanic activity. Without clear recognition of how the volcano works, there is the potential that the risk of hazardous conditions (e.g., eruptions, gas emissions, fumarolic activity, landslides, seismic activity, and other volcanic hazards) may not be adequately addressed in the site’s management plan. Two examples illustrate current best practice in response to this management challenge. Managers at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument face a decision on what civil engineering measures to take in response to a large lake formed by a debris avalanche during the 1980 eruption that poses catastrophic flood and debris flow risks to more than 50,000 downstream residents. Managers of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in Hawai‘i faced imminent threats to residents of the island during eruptions of Kīlauea volcano in 2018 and 2020, which also destroyed a research observatory and park visitor facilities. The management response was to fully close the area near the volcanic vent and move the research center to the city of Hilo, 30 miles northeast of the Kīlauea summit.

Fresh perspectives on paleontological heritage and the stewardship of non-renewable fossil resources

A “fresh perspective” provides an insight into the values attributed to paleontological heritage and the consequent behaviors, motivations, and management challenges for the stewardship of this non-renewable resource. To provide a global perspective, a survey was undertaken with over three dozen experienced paleontological resource managers examining values and management experiences. Notably, values attributed to paleontological resources were consistently wide-ranging, encompassing scientific, educational, cultural, aesthetic, economic, and other values, and there was a consequent diversity of management approaches and actions. Responses are discussed and lessons learned are outlined to provide a fresh perspective and key points for the successful stewardship of paleontological heritage.

New approaches to geoconservation in desert environments

Deserts are areas of great landform diversity and distinctiveness. In the past there was a shortage of desert World Heritage nominations. This situation persists, though shows some improvement. However, there are also desert landform complexes associated with mixed World Heritage sites and sites on various national World Heritage tentative lists. There are also two desert UNESCO Global Geoparks, both of which are in China. In recent years there has been the development of geotourism in arid regions and this has led to a greater interest in the economic value of geoconservation. However, there are various landscape threats that need consideration and management, including off-road driving, military activity, urbanization, river diversions, quarrying and mining, development associated with energy industries, and anthropogenic climate changes. In this paper, the concentration is on warm desert landscapes, and on conservation of geomorphological features, rather than, for instance, sites of particular stratigraphic or paleontological value.

New approaches to rock landform and landscape conservation

Rock landforms are natural outcrops of solid bedrock, exposed at the earth surface due to higher resistance to weathering and erosion. They are important carriers of information about past and more recent geological and geomorphological processes, underpin biodiversity and cultural values, and may have considerable aesthetic significance. Many are popular tourist destinations. They are subject to different threats, including physical damage through quarrying and vandalism, may suffer from excessive rock climbing, or their values are compromised by uncontrolled vegetation growth. Their interpretation is often poor or non-existent. Conservation measures and solutions are mainly site-specific and typically require coordination with biological conservation, including prioritization of conservation efforts focused on localities of special scientific significance.

Advances in Research and Management (Peer-Reviewed)

Long-term monitoring of vegetation cover changes by remote sensing, Cadillac Mountain summit, Acadia National Park

The primary objective of this study was to detect vegetation disturbance resulting from visitor use by using remote sensing. A pre-classification change detection analysis based on the normalized difference vegetation index was utilized to measure the amount of vegetation cover changes at Cadillac Mountain summit, Acadia National Park, Maine. By analyzing new remote sensing data collected in 2010 and 2018, we compared the vegetation conditions at the summit (experimental site) with a nearby site with little or no visitor use (control site). Additionally, the study was designed to examine vegetation cover changes between 2001–2007 (the first time frame) and 2010–2018 (the second time frame). Similar to the results observed in the first time frame, the experimental and control sites exhibited more vegetation increase than vegetation decrease in the second time frame. The amount of vegetation increase was 1,425m2 at the experimental site and 400m2 at the control site. The amount of vegetation decrease was 150m2 at the experimental site and 75m2 at the control site. Measurable vegetation cover changes based on the remote sensing analysis could provide baseline data for monitoring further changes over an extended period of time. The advantages of using remote sensing in detecting vegetation conditions are also discussed, along with management and research implications.

Keywords: remote sensing, recreation ecology, vegetation, visitor impact monitoring, parks and protected areas

US national park visitor experiences during COVID-19: Data from Acadia, Glacier, Grand Teton, Shenandoah, and Yellowstone National Parks

The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely impacted US National Park Service (NPS) units. This study seeks to help inform future visitor use management and planning by compiling data from five NPS units (Acadia, Glacier, Grand Teton, Shenandoah, and Yellowstone National Parks), focusing on how the pandemic influenced management and impacted visitor use. Data were collected from both park managers and visitors. Results provide understanding regarding managerial changes, user-capacity limits, and documented changes in visitation in 2020 compared to 2019. These results are coupled with park visitor data from 2020, including visitor demographics, motivations and perceived outcomes, information sources for visiting during the pandemic, potential behavioral shifts in response to COVID-19 while on-site, and intent to visit in the future. The results suggest that the distinct shifts in visitation patterns during 2020 impacted park managers’ ability to predict and efficiently respond to visitor use changes. This issue was exacerbated by staffing shortages attributed to the pandemic. Lessons learned regarding what worked well (e.g., respondents were able to achieve health-related outcomes), and what could be improved (e.g., knowing that visitors adapted behaviors to maintain personal safety, and future staffing allocations can be focused temporally and spatially based on these 2020 use trends) can be incorporated to help prepare park managers, surrounding gateway communities, and state tourism authorities for the future.

The Photographer's Frame

Through the magnifying glass: Understanding conservation on a microscopic scale

This visual essay in "The Photographer's Frame" focuses on small life forms that are easily overlooked — which means that their important contributions to ecosystems are all too often undervalued.

Verse in Place

Cliff Jumping at St. Mary’s Glacier

A poem in the "Verse in Place" section of Parks Stewardship Forum.