Taiwan's National Parks Face a Bumpy Road

Taiwan's National Parks Face a Bumpy Road
Photo Credit: Max PixelCC0 Public Domain

What you need to know

Taiwan's National Park Act imitated the US system of conservation, but without the capacity to make it work.

The concept of national parks was established by the United States in the 19th century. Today, national parks around the world are under the guidance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Yet, I argue that the IUCN is not able to offer much support outside of the US-context.

Taiwan passed its National Park Act in 1972, specifically inheriting the US’ system of conservation. However, Taiwan passed this Act with little experience of conservation and a low-level of environmental awareness of issues among society. At the same time, the IUCN had only just formed and was far from able to guide the affairs of global national parks.

Taiwan’s environmental law is also related to that in the United States. In the US, every time a new national park is established, the National Park Act of that park is passed. For example, the US Congress passed the Yellowstone Act in 1872, which signaled the birth of the first National Park. In Taiwan, every national park must be set up on the basis of Taiwan’s environmental law, the National Park Act of 1972 (amended in 2010). It took ten years after this law was established for Taiwan to develop its own national parks.

However, the legal systems in Taiwan and US differ. Following the establishment of its National Park Act, Taiwan followed a completely different path with regards to the context of the conditions of national parks, its administrative models, its cultural practices and other social aspects. In other words, Taiwan did not simply adopt the US system.

However, during the process of developing national parks in Taiwan, similar difficulties and conflicts were also experienced in the United States. Perhaps the most obvious ones were the conflicts between organizations and the issue of neglect surrounding indigenous peoples. The former increased the resistance to practical conservation while the latter was counter-intuitive to the core values of conservation.

Following the establishment of the Act, there are now eight national parks in Taiwan. In terms of space and resources, it is indeed not a small system. Yet, the whole system is poorly managed. The Taiwan national park management authority claims that the National Park Act provides the basis for management. In fact, this law is far from sufficient as a guiding principle of management both in the breadth of the operations and depth of the problems. What may be even worse is that there is no overall policy and procedures for the management of the parks.

The consequences of such are that there lacks a central axis through which all operative arms of the national parks can be passed through, a lack of legislative management, excessive rule by the people, waste of resources and a lack of knowledge of how to deal with problems. Furthermore, coupled with the lack of quality managers, Taiwan often faces a variety of challenges and difficulties in the management of people at national parks.

In addition to the above-mentioned issues requiring improvement in the management of the parks, Taiwan’s national parks authorities are also facing severe challenges in resources for conservation. For example, the parks’ resources are still under limited control, and lack systematic and continuous tracking, funding for conservation surveys and research; most of parks resources, and the mountainous national parks do not have a good relationship with the indigenous people.

This phenomenon not only shows that the authorities are not sufficiently aware of the ecological and cultural relationship between the Aboriginal people and the park’s resources, but that it has also greatly weakened the value and implication of conservation within the parks. Furthermore, there are no short-term plans in place to improve this situation.

Almost all of the world’s national parks which can be accessed by transport face a common challenge – the pressure to manage the great number of sightseers. This is one of the main reasons why the environment of these parks has been negatively impacted in recent years. In the context of Taiwan, I am afraid that the situation in Taiwan’s national park authorities is even more concerning. It is technically difficult to resist the crowds of tourists, especially against economy-orientated policies and executive directions.

In management aspects, although the development of Taiwan’s national parks has been a bumpy journey, it is no less as straightforward as the twists and turns in the development of the national parks in the US. Open the page of history books, and the ideal of the national park was drafted by George Catlin in 1832. Yet the first national park was established in 1872, some 40 years later. Therefore, rather than putting blame on Taiwan’s national park authorities for their slowness in adopting positive changes, it is better to encourage them to not be bogged down in the administrative environment and mechanisms (such as the current mode of personnel administration, procurement law, budget system …).

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published by Taiwan Insight, the online magazine of the Taiwan Studies Program.

TNL Editor: Morley J Weston