World Heritage Conservation: An American Idea

Born in 1972

In 1972 the United States proposed the World Heritage Convention to UNESCO and was the first nation to ratify it.

The World Heritage Convention, the most widely accepted international conservation treaty in human history, is the American national park idea being carried out worldwide. Currently, there are 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United State

Yellowstone National Park

Sited atop a gigantic volcanic caldera, Yellowstone is famous around the world for its geologic features and abundant wildlife.

St. Elias-Glacier Bay

The wilderness of Glacier Bay offers a spectacular array of tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park protects more subtropical land and water than anywhere else in the US and some of the rarest and most endangered species in the US — including Florida panthers, West Indian manatees, American crocodiles, and wood storks.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park preserves an area of outstanding scenic beauty and great wilderness value. The park represents practically all the different environments found within the Sierra Nevada, including sequoia groves, domes, valleys, polished granites, and other geological features.

Mesa Verde National Park

In 1978 Mesa Verde was inscribed on the World Heritage List as an outstanding example of the culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

The Study Finds

World Heritage Forests Mitigate Climate Change

The first-ever scientific assessment of the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted from and absorbed by forests in UNESCO World Heritage sites has found that forests in World Heritage sites play a vital role in mitigating climate change by absorbing 190 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

Read the Press Release or download the Full Report

Discover American Sites

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is a shining beacon of liberty to people around the globe. A gift from the people of France, it has welcomed millions of immigrants who arrived in the United States by sea.

The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

“The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright” includes eight buildings in six states, designed and built over the first half of the 20th century by this preeminent architect.

Chaco Culture

The Chaco complex and its extensive system of masonry structures and roads were begun as early as 850 A.D. and flourished for several centuries.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo is a remarkable example of a traditional type of architecture from the pre-Hispanic period of the Americas.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the Constitution of the United States of America framed in this fine early 18th-century building in Philadelphia.

Frequent Questions

What is a World Heritage Site?

A World Heritage Site is a natural or cultural site that demonstrates influence or significance in a global context (i.e., has “Outstanding Universal Value”), and has been inscribed on the World Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee.

What is meant by the term Outstanding Universal Value?

As defined by the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention , Outstanding Universal Value means that a site has cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional that it transcends national boundaries and is of importance to present and future generations of all humanity.

Who maintains the World Heritage List?

The list is maintained by the World Heritage Centre, staffed by UNESCO in Paris. The World Heritage Committee (the Committee), which makes decisions about adding sites to the World Heritage List, is made up of 21 countries, elected on a rotating basis from among the current 194 countries that have signed and ratified The World Heritage Convention. These countries are referred to as State Parties.

Are there any regulations that apply to World Heritage Sites?

Being inscribed on the World Heritage List does not regulate or place restrictions on private property or private property owners. Direct authority over individual properties remains with the national, state, tribal, or local government or private organization that owns and manages the site. National authorities routinely report to the World Heritage Committee on issues affecting the values of the Sites.

How is a site inscribed on the World Heritage List

A site must meet one or more of the ten World Heritage Committee selection criteria, be on a State Party’s Tentative List, and go through a nomination process before being considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. A site can be proposed for inscription only by the country in which the property is located.

What is the Tentative List?

The Tentative List is an inventory of natural and cultural heritage sites within its territory which a country believes meet the selection criteria and which it intends to nominate within the next 10 years. In order for a site to be nominated to the World Heritage List, it must have been included on its country’s Tentative List for at least one year before nomination.

Who chooses the sites for the US Tentative List?

The Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, with staff assistance from the National Park Service, Office of International Affairs (NPS-OIA) is responsible for identifying sites for the United States (U.S.) Tentative List and nominating sites to the World Heritage List. Only sites already designated as National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) or National Natural Landmarks (NNLs) or otherwise officially recognized as being nationally significant (such as National Parks) are eligible for the U.S. Tentative List.

Can sites be added or recommended to the US Tentative List?

The Assistant Secretary can add sites to the U.S. Tentative List as part of an official process for making nominations. The Tentative List was last revised in 2017, and now includes 19 sites or groups of properties. No further revisions are planned in the near future, as this list will supply future nominations for a number of years. The NPS-OIA maintains files on other properties that might be considered for addition in the future, and anyone interested in suggesting sites should contact that office.