Stephen Morris Unites World, College with Lecture on Future International Cultural Conservation

Alice Shockley, Staff Writer

“To cherish what remains, and foster its renewal, is our only hope.” This sentiment expressed by writer Wendall Berry, encapsulates the message of Stephen Morris’s, OC ’82, lecture on April 23. To represent the World Heritage Convention, Curricular Committee on Archeology invited Morris to speak and show the latest World Heritage video, which highlighted their achievements, and addressed the basic historic, political, cultural and environmental projects undertaken by World Heritage Program Organization.

Morris made note of the great need for support from active-minded students from our generation, emphasizing the importance of outreach and awareness in order to recruit National Park Service interns for seasonal training sessions. “Although retention rates are very high as of now,” Morris noted, “it is the on-ground, seasonal experience that many students are after.”

Morris represents the World Heritage Program as chief director in the Office of International Affairs for the National Park Service. As a prominent conductor of the World Heritage Program, Morris assists — along with the World Heritage Committee, which consists of members from representative countries around the world — in the compilation of the annual World Heritage List.

The Committee is located in the World Heritage Center, based in the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Each year, a tentative list is compiled to include a national list of both natural and cultural properties that countries can submit if their criteria meets the credentials for nomination. Each country is allowed to submit no more than two properties per year for consideration. Each year, a maximum of 35 sites are accepted.

There are currently 21 U.S. sponsored sites on the Map of Current World Heritage Properties, including Yellowstone Park, Mesa Verde and The Statue of Liberty.

Although the U.S. has undergone certain unfortunate complications with the World Heritage Foundation, “It is important to know,” Morris explained, “that the U.S. played an integral role in the establishment of World Heritage,” and that this World Heritage Convention, or “American National Park idea,” has been carried out worldwide.

In 2011, various press sources revealed that in response to the UNESCO vote granting full membership to Palestine, the U.S. withdrew funding.

“The U.S. is in a bind,” reported News Middle East. “It regards the UNESCO as a valuable UN subdivision, but it is also bound by strict laws in an overwhelmingly pro-Israel committee, and the acceptance of Palestine into the UNESCO Committee is tantamount to a rejection of the international efforts to advance the peace process.”

“Controversies with U.S.-UNESCO relations are expected to come to some reconciliation,” reassured Morris, but there are other issues at hand which demand our immediate attention. There are currently numerous sites on the World Heritage List that are in grave danger due to issues with conservation, construction and eco-tourism. Recent threats include the potential construction of a central highway through the Serengeti National Park, the facilitation of mining sites in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, and mass tourism growth at many World Heritage Sites. In 2006, annual visitors numbered 500,000, and this number continues to grow.

These sites, many of which have been under consideration for a place on the World Heritage Endangered Species List, have been on close annual examination in the UNESCO committee office. Still, few issues have been addressed due to the scarce recourse quantities in the UNESCO foundation. There have been efforts for alternative solutions; to train and involve tourists in preservation practices, tourism management seminars have been established (in particular at Yellowstone), and the National Park Service of International Affairs World Heritage Office offers opportunities for oversea fellows to take part in a training program in US National Parks.

“We want sites to become models in conservation for international parties,” Morris said, explaining how UNESCO would like to see certain attention given to these sites — an attention that confers almost sacred reverence upon these sites, rather than exploiting them for economic gain.

“We have a collective responsibility to pass sites down unharmed to future generations,” continued Morris. “World Heritage Sites should not just stand as major tourism sites, but as sites that can be appreciated beyond their economic value.”