National Park Service

World Heritage in the U.S. Tentative List

San Antonio Missions
San Antonio Franciscan Missions, Texas, is one of the World Heritage in the U.S. Tentative List properties..

A Tentative List is  a country’s official candidate list of potential World Heritage nominations. Under the terms of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, each signatory nation is required to submit a national list of natural and cultural properties that appear to meet the eligibility criteria for nomination to the World Heritage List and which the country may nominate within a given period of time.  It is only from this annotated list of candidate sites that properties can be selected for nomination. 

The United States Tentative List was last updated in 2008 (http://www.nps.gov/oia/topics/worldheritage/WHTentList.doc), and currently consists of 13 properties.  On June 26, 2012, the Department of the Interior announced in the Federal Register (77 FR: 38080) that it would begin a process to update the list with a 2016 target date for its completion.  (The Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Committee recommend that countries update their tentative lists approximately once every 10 years.)  This process will include consultation with a wide range of subject matter experts, interested organizations, and the public.  Over the last several years, the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs has received hundreds of suggestions of potential sites, both in response to formal requests for public comment and outside of the public comment periods.  These suggestions as well others submitted subsequently will be studied as part of the process of updating the list.

Qualifications for World Heritage Nomination

Under U.S. law, there are three prerequisites: 
1) the property must be officially recognized as having national significance, e.g. a National Park, Monument, or National Historic Landmark, among others;
2) all property owners must provide written consent;
3) the owner and the Dept. of the Interior must agree that there is sufficient legal protection to ensure its long-term preservation.

Not all properties with national significance will be suitable for World Heritage nomination.  Properties must be able to demonstrate influence or significance in a global context, or as it is called in the World Heritage Program, “outstanding universal value” (OUV).   For example, the Statue of Liberty is important to Americans and is also internationally recognized for its design and engineering as well as its symbolic meanings.   However, other places important to our national story will not necessarily have international influence or meaning.  The U.S. government is familiar with how the World Heritage Committee evaluates OUV, and will nominate only properties that have a strong likelihood of success in that process.

World Heritage nominations must meet at least one of 10 criteria, see below:

(i)   to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

(ii)  to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

(v)  to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

(vi)  to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);

(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

(viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

(ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;

(x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of properties are also important considerations.

It is important to remember that the cultural criteria do not support listing for associative value alone, i.e. for places associated with important people or historical events. 

Finally, areas with large numbers of property owners will have difficulties in meeting the requirement for owner consent. There should be evidence that all property owners are supportive before suggesting possible World Heritage sites.

Given that World Heritage procedures allow a country to nominate only two properties per year, and that a Tentative List is expected to last approximately 10 years,  the revised U.S. Tentative List will likely consist of between 10 and 20 properties. 

Any person or organization may, at any time, suggest to the staff of the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs (NPS OIA) that a nationally significant property should be considered for addition to the Tentative List, with the understanding that the full support of all owners will be required.  The initial suggestion should make clear the extent and nature of the property and document the reasons it is believed to satisfy the World Heritage criteriaIt is very important to note that the World Heritage criteria require that the sites possess international significance or outstanding universal value, not merely national importance.  Although the application form used by NPS to develop the 2008 Tentative List may not be used in the future, it contains many of the elements that are important for a World Heritage nomination and can be used as a reference tool.  The 2008 application form is available here.

NPS OIA can provide advice in response to  suggestions, based on experience and existing precedents in the World Heritage program.  They will assess the suggestion against the legal prerequisites for nomination noted above to determine whether it is likely the property can meet them.  The staff may also request additional information and will retain all materials on file as a resource for future revisions of the Tentative List. 

For further information, please contact Stephen Morris, Chief, NPS Office of International Affairs, at Stephen_morris@nps.gov



More Information

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Last Updated:January 14, 2014