North American Cooperation on Wilderness

Overview of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation for Wilderness & Protected Areas Conservation

Download the MOU in: French, English and Spanish.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation for Wilderness Conservation was signed by seven North American government agencies at WILD9, the 9th World Wilderness Congress (WWC), in Mérida, State of Yucatán, Mexico on 7 November 2009. The seven agencies are: the Parks Canada Agency of the Government of Canada; the Mexican National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT); the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the U.S. Department of Interior; and the Forest Service and Office of Ecosystem Services & Markets (now Office of Environmental Markets) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The MOU is the first international agreement dedicated to wilderness, and as decided by the agency heads when they met in person in Banff, Alberta, Canada in May 2011, it now extends to protected areas. It heralds a growing global understanding of the importance of wilderness and protected areas in the 21st century – and the critical role it plays in response to climate change, the extinction crisis, quality water shortages, and other environmental decline.

The MOU is implemented by a North American Intergovernmental Committee on Cooperation for Wilderness and Protected Areas Cooperation (“NAWPA Committee”) that is officially comprised of the heads of the signatory agencies: the CEO of Parks Canada; the National Commissioner of CONANP; the Directors of NPS, USFWS, and BLM; the Chief of the US Forest Service; and the Director of USDA OEM.  The current NAWPA Committee Chair is US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

The agency heads in turn assign substantive work to their staff, who comprise a Working Committee made up of a Coordinating Group to provide intra-agency liaison and Working Groups that tackle top priority subject matter. The NAWPA Committee chair delegates leadership of agency staff to a Working Committee chair (“Working Chair”).  The current Working Chair is Leanne Marten, Director of Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers at the US Forest Service.  Working Groups are headed up by co-chairs representing multiple agencies and typically all three countries.

The WILD Foundation has been selected by the agency heads to facilitate the NAWPA Committee.

When the NAWPA Committee met in Banff, they set forth three new working groups, building upon the work of the previous five working groups that had been operating since early 2010.  At their November 2011 meeting in Key Largo, Florida, they added a fourth, so the four in current operation are:

  1. The Role of Wilderness and Protected Areas in Responding to Climate Change (“Climate Change Working Group”)
  2. Ensuring the Relevance of Wilderness and Protected Areas in a Changing World (“Relevance Working Group”)
  3. Understanding and Communicating the Value of Ecological Goods and Services (“Valuing Ecosystem Services Working Group”)

The MOU on Cooperation for Wilderness & Protected Areas Conservation constitutes a big stride on the global trail towards a healthy and well-protected wilderness resource that safeguard biodiversity and other essential ecosystem services in the face of rapidly escalating global change.

Please follow their work at