In a virtual signing ceremony on March 22, Glacier National Park gained another international connection, adding to its existing relationships with national parks in Canada and Mongolia.
The new agreement establishes Glacier and Killarney National Park in County Kerry, Ireland as “sister parks,” an arrangement that facilitates collaboration over the management of the twin national treasures.
“Even though we’re in different countries and it seems like, ‘what would we have in common with Ireland,’ it just takes a few minutes of conversation to understand that we share very common problems,” said Glacier spokesperson Gina Kerzman.
Park officials will meet and discuss common challenges faced by both parks, including historic preservation, high visitation, invasive species management, ecological monitoring and community outreach.
Séamie Hassett, regional manager for Killarney National Park, hopes to gain insight from officials in Glacier as the park looks forward to record levels of visitation this year.
“Killarney National Park has in the last year experienced some of its highest number of visits ever,” Hassett said. “This in itself poses problems to the management of the park in striking the right balance between delivering its legal objective of nature conservation and facilitating public access and amenity usage.”
“Hopefully this twinning is the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship where both parks can in unison continue to deliver a superb experience to all of our visitors,” Hassett continued. “It will present both (agencies) opportunities to engage in idea sharing on the learnt best practice in dealing with a wide number of issues, forging a new relationship between both parks and hopefully a shared synergy that will culminate in evolved and adaptive management practices for the parks.”
The initial agreement, which adds Glacier-Killarney to more than three dozen similar arrangements within the National Park Service, is set to last for five years and may be extended, as has been done with prior arrangements.
Glacier entered a sister-park relationship with Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area in Mongolia in 2004. Khan Khentii was divided into two separate park units in 2013 and Glacier updated its agreement to an arrangement with one subunit, the newly formed Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, in 2015.
The Mongolian agreement emphasized the two parks’ shared latitude, as well as similar landforms — mountains over 8,000 feet — and fauna, including bears and moose. According to Kerzman, the arrangement has identified bear management and the concept of International Dark Sky Preserve status as areas for collaboration.
Glacier’s history of international cooperation, however, goes back to its founding, as the park shares an international border with Canada.
“As the world’s first international peace park with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, Glacier National Park has a proud history of working with partners beyond our borders to exchange best practices and to learn from one another,” Glacier superintendent Jeff Mow said. “We look forward to adding to our history and collaborating with Killarney National Park.”
Waterton-Glacier, which is classified as a World Heritage Site, was formalized as the first international peace park in 1932, the same year that Killarney National Park was created as the first national park in Ireland.
Killarney, managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of Ireland’s Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, is located in the southwestern part of Ireland and covers a little more than 25,000 acres. The park is home to Ireland’s only wild herd of native red deer, as well as a population of Sika deer and numerous species of birds and fish.
Hassett said the NPWS has a long-standing practice of engaging with other conservation groups at the international level but is particularly excited about collaborating with Glacier on education and outreach programs.
“What was very attractive from a twinning perspective was the comprehensive education and research program run by Glacier National Park through the Crown of the Continent Research and Learning Center,” Hassett said. “The NPWS is currently partnering with Munster Technological University in developing a unique Wildlife Animation Course, which will hopefully prove a pathway for those interested in wildlife conservation in gaining employment in that field. This is one of the other strands that we hope to build on when we broaden out the list of projects.”
In addition, Killarney has close links to its local community and partners with volunteer and educational groups, similar to the Glacier Institute, which provides a framework for a robust exchange of outreach ideas.
Hassett is also interested in learning more about how Glacier Park works with the Blackfeet Nation to manage and maintain their shared lands from an ecological and tourism perspective, ideally in person once international travel is safe.
“The longer term aim of the twinning would be to encourage staff from both organizations to participant in a series of exchanges where they would be physically involved in the day-to-day running of the parks, on the ground, in all aspects of management,” Hassett said. “Personally, I look forward to visiting Montana and Glacier at some stage … and if I was to be so lucky, get the chance to cast a fly on some of the best trout fishing waters in the U.S.”