World Commission on Protected Areas


The IUCN WCPA Mountains Specialist Group facilitates the enhanced conservation, effective management and adequate protection of mountain protected areas in one of the Earth’s most important biomes. This includes their biodiversity, cultural, social and economic values.

Specialist Group Chair

Jacobs Peter Jacobs Peter Photo: Jacobs Peter Peter Jacobs


Co-chairs: Patrizia Rossi, Fausto Sarmiento, Mike Tollefson and Gillian Anderson​

IUCN WCPA Mountains Specialist Group TOR 2017-2020

The Importance of Mountains

The mountains of the world provide essential ecosystem based services to global communities as well as inspiration and enjoyment to millions.

Mountain areas cover 26.5% of the world’s total continental land surface.  Of the world’s 237 countries, 197 include mountains. Mountains are particularly important for their biodiversity, water, clean air, research, cultural diversity, leisure, landscape and spiritual values. They are income sources for communities through agriculture, tourism and use of natural resources and important for minimisation of natural hazards and early warning systems.  

Mountainous formations also occur across considerable areas of the ocean floor. These important and diverse underwater mountain ranges and islands constitute a large portion of the mountainous surface of the planet. 

Mountain areas hold a vast variety of life forms due to their local breadth of physical conditions related to altitude and slope. They include astonishing biodiversity in terms of number of taxa and endemicity and make up half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Mountains occur in 88% of the World’s 821 terrestrial ecoregions.

The rich cultural diversity of mountains is well known. Isolation by rugged topographic barriers has contributed to this and remoteness has kept many cultures relatively intact. Mountains are part of societal metageographies that help promote and define a sense of identity that is not dependent only on isolation, but also in communal protection, reciprocal efforts and wider exchanges of animals and plant species.  In the Zomia region of mountainous South-east Asia, many ethnic minorities have retrained their cultures and operate with little State control or influence. 

Mountains are also the source of inspiration of revolutions and theories that have changed the word, from Moses, Budha, Jesus to Bolivar, Napoleon or the Gran Khan.  So, whether metaphorical or not, mountain imaginaries have defined present civilization.

Many mountains are sacred or of great cultural significance requiring sensitive management and total involvement of local and indigenous people in planning, decision making and interpretation.


As the challenges of the 21st century present themselves as a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services, mountains and mountain communities will need to build ecological resistance and resilience to cope. Many communities and societies rely heavily on healthy mountainous areas for their well-being.  Mountains are at the forefront of change due to the early and (along with coastal areas) probably the most profound manifestation of the impact of climate change.  Protecting important sites for mountain biodiversity is vital for ensuring long term and sustainable use of mountain natural resources and to build resilience; however the current level of protection is relatively low.

Mountain Protected Areas

The world’s system of protected areas includes many outstanding places within the earth’s mountainous landscape.  Outside Antarctica, about 17% of mountain areas are protected representing 32.4% of the extent of the world’s terrestrial protected areas; nevertheless there are mountain areas of significance that are not adequately protected when considered at country, biogeographic realm, biome and ecoregion scales.  For example, of the 6109 Key Biodiversity Areas located in mountains, 52% are less than 30% protected and 40.4% are completely unprotected. Nearly 40% of the world’s mountain ranges do not contain any protected areas. This is concerning as mountains are considered vulnerable places in the Anthropocene due to significant economic development, expansion of human activities and the effects of climate change.

There may be many reasons for their non-protection such as conflicts over resource use, cultural and community issues, political tensions, lack of appropriate statute or lack of appreciation of values. Poor protection of mountains at the site and ecoregion scale is of concern given their importance for biodiversity, the other ecosystem services they provide and their vulnerability to global change.

The Mountains Specialist Group and Network

The Mountains Specialist Group contains over 400 WCPA members and over 300 other network associates in over 60 countries and includes protected area managers, mountain specialists, researchers, recreation groups and others committed to the conservation and protection of mountain protected areas.

For 25 years the Mountain Specialist Group has worked collaboratively to organise many workshops and produce or contribute to publications about the latest trends in mountain protected area management. The Mountains SG has generated best practice guidance for IUCN WCPA and encouraged the establishment of new protected areas in mountain environments.

What is the Mountains Specialist Group doing?

In alignment with the WCPA “Promise of Sydney” our current activity includes:

  • Identification of Global Priorities for New Mountain Protected and Conserved Areas

As the world conservation movement advocates to expand the global coverage of terrestrial protected areas over the next decade toward 30%, identifying priorities for new mountain protected and conserved areas needs to take a strategic approach to ensure areas of highest value and most in need of protection are identified.

The Mountain Specialist Group has developed a draft paper titled: “Identification of Global Priorities for New Mountain Protected and Conserved Areas”. It re-enforces an understanding and appreciation of the critical natural and cultural values of mountains and the threats to their ecological functions and presents the case for the importance of protecting and conserving representative mountain ecosystems.

The paper proposes an iterative six step Decision Support Tool for identifying and prioritizing candidate areas for conserving inadequately protected mountain ecosystems, species and habitats.  The tool begins with quantitative analyses of the adequacy of protection of mountain Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), world terrestrial ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, and red-listed species. It then guides regional teams through qualitative assessments of other values to develop lists of priority areas to advocate for protection or conservation. Its purpose is to assist in determining priorities, in order to influence where efforts need to be focused to protect and conserve mountain areas.

The draft paper and Decision Support Tool are available to read, download and utilize from this webpage; see top right.

Any comments or questions are welcome and can be directed to the Chair, Peter Jacobs 

  • Capacity building

The Mountains Specialist Group is identifying actions around challenges of the 21st Century by hosting events such as workshops and knowledge cafes on Mountain Protected Areas at relevant meetings and congresses. We will manage and grow the Mountains network and promote participation and interactive involvement. We will be identifying exemplars of best practice mountain protected area management in collaboration with IUCN WCPA’s Green List programme and promote their achievements.


Through the quarterly Mountain Protected Areas Update, we will communicate the latest news about what is happening in mountain protected areas globally to inspire the highest standards of mountain protected area management.  The Update has been distributed for over 25 years with the 110th edition approaching.

See top right for links to the latest Mountain Protected Areas Updates.

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