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A Visit to Yellowstone

From September 19th - 21st, I accompanied three senior officials from China's National Forest and Grasslands Administration (NFGA, formerly State Forest Administration) to Yellowstone, the world's first national park. The National Geographic Society (NGS) has a budding cooperative relationship with NFGA and a long history in Yellowstone, and I helped them design and facilitate the visit. China has over 10,000 protected areas, but they were established piecemeal under dozens of different ministerial, provincial and local jurisdictions and for many different purposes. The central government recently decided to bring order to this chaotic situation and the leader of the Yellowstone delegation, Mr. Zhang Hongwen, is in charge of designing a system of large national parks to reduce inefficiencies and ensure that China's natural heritage is available for current and future generations. Two elements of Yellowstone that made an especially deep impression in the visitors were the determination to reduce human interference in natural processes such as fire and wildlife migration, and the way that both park staff and NGOs situate the park within a larger Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Senior NGS staff hosted the group, and in addition to seeing the park's stunning geothermal features and wildlife, we met with regional non-profits like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and had in-depth conversation with outgoing Park Superintendent Dan Wenk.