What We Do

The NPS Office of International Affairs is going places. We're working with our parks and partners to increase environmental and cultural awareness throughout the world. We're involved with a lot of different countries and issues, but our main program areas include:

A close up of the top section of the Statue of Liberty.
The Statue of Liberty, a World Heritage Site since 1984.

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World Heritage

The World Heritage List includes over 1,000 places of such universal value that all of humanity has a stake in their preservation. The U.S. was a prime mover in the creation of the World Heritage Convention, which seeks to foster international cooperation to protect these globally significant sites. OIA tracks and reports on the status of the 24 current World Heritage sites, oversees the preparation of nominations for new U.S. proposals to the World Heritage List, maintains and updates the Tentative List for future nominations, represents the Department of the Interior at meetings of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, and maintains contacts with colleagues around the world to share knowledge and best practices in management of these most important places.

A Japanese international volunteer with a backpack explores the wilderness of Katmai National Park.
An international volunteer from Japan had the opportunity to explore the wilderness of Katmai National Park and Preserve while in her program.

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International Volunteers in Parks Program

Every year, more than one hundred individuals from all over the world volunteer in America's National Parks The International Volunteers-in-Parks Program (IVIP) benefits both the individual volunteer and the National Park Service (NPS): the volunteer receives training in park management, wildlife research, cultural resources, environmental education, etc., and the National Park Service gains a fresh perspective on park management in addition to assistance with carrying out the Service's mission.

The US Department of State has designated the NPS as an official J-1 Exchange Program Sponsor. Parks are ideal places for IVIPs to experience the best that US has to offer, to learn about American culture, and to share their own with park staff. The State Department’s intent for the J-1 visa program is for “exchange visitors” to return to their countries to teach others what they have learned. In this way, IVIPs help NPS spread its mission around the world. Many former international volunteers have become conservation leaders, and they often reflect that their experiences volunteering in the national parks helped them in their future careers.

The NPS welcomes all who apply to the IVIP program, however it is primarily geared towards college students studying in a park related field or candidates who have the educational and professional backgrounds to benefit from the training that will learned during their program.

Please Note: Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, all US Embassies are closed and issuance of visas of is suspended. NPS has been advised by the State Department not to coordinate new J-1 certificates for 60 days. Therefore, new IVIP programs will not be coordinated until after that time. You may submit an application to be kept on file. Please check the website for further updates.

NPS and Kenya Wildlife Service officials stand for a photograph after signing a sister park agreement.
NPS Deputy Director Chip Jenkins (left) and Kenya Wildlife Service officials at a signing ceremony establishing the first sister park between an NPS site and an African park.

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Sister Parks Program

It is widely accepted that most national parks are simply too small to fulfill their mission of preserving natural and cultural resources on their own. Park managers know that to fulfill their mandate, they cannot manage a protected area as an isolated island, but must seek opportunities to partner with neighboring land owners and the local community. There are benefits too, from gaining knowledge and lessons learned from other protected areas throughout the world.

With this in mind, some two dozen or more NPS sites have established "sister park" relationships in the last few years with national parks in other countries. These partnerships increase information sharing and direct park-to-park contacts to address many shared issues, primarily through improved telecommunications technologies.

An NPS Concessions Specialist with a group of Rwanda dancers who are dressed in colorful native garb.
An NPS Concessions specialist who assisted Rwandan parks with developing a national park concessions policy stands with a group of dancers.

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International Technical Assistance

The National Park Service conducts international technical assistance projects around the globe. Its overseas technical missions, demonstrates the full-range commitment of the Park Service in its contributions to global environmental conservation. The National Park Service's most successful exchange products and programs have been park planning assistance; program evaluation assistance; international training programs, including interpretive skills training and conferences, workshops, and symposia.

Congress and successive administrations have indicated that investments in U.S. national parks for preservation of wildlife values are incomplete unless we also invest in assuring that critical habitat is effectively protected in other countries to, and from, which the wildlife migrates. For example, money and time invested in training park rangers in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean are an investment to assure the preservation of park wildlife in NPS sites such as Everglades NP. The international mission statement adopted by the Park Service implies strong initiatives with our border nations. As a result, the Service cooperates with all of the U.S. border neighbors, including the Caribbean nations, Mexico, Canada, and the Russian Federation.

The superintendent of Lake Roosevelt NRA stands outside Addo Elephant National Park Visitor Center with a park employee.
Lake Roosevelt NRA superintendent at Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa. He was a participant in the Learning from our Colleagues Abroad program in 2019.

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Learning from our Colleagues Abroad

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people
need it sorely on these accounts.”
Mark Twain

The tasks of conservation and park protection know no boundaries. Around the world, parks and heritage sites face a diversity of challenges, frequently matched by creative solutions. Current and future leaders of the NPS are wise to avoid “narrow-mindedness” as Twain suggests, and sample and learn from the resourcefulness and savvy to be found in national parks and heritage sites abroad. From the very beginning of the National Park Service, practices adapted from other countries have become integral to the management of US national parks and sites, ranging from interpretation to inventory and monitoring techniques.

In both the private and public sectors, leadership development initiatives increasingly recognize the importance of international engagement and awareness. As the world becomes ever more globalized and interconnected, it is critical that leaders have skills in cross-cultural awareness and the global context in which they operate.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, The ‘Learning from Our Colleagues Abroad’ opportunity, which launched as a pilot program in 2017, provides travel support funds to qualified National Park Service field leaders (Superintendents and Deputy Superintendents) to facilitate 7-10 day study visits in foreign national parks or heritage sites. The NPS Office of International Affairs (OIA), in partnership with the National Park Foundation (NPF), administers and funds the program.

Last updated: March 30, 2023