Big Bend Rio Bravo Transboundary Protected Area

Just the Facts


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The Mexican black bear is one of many species of wildlife that currently moves back and forth across the border between the US and Mexico.  Photo by Rick LoBello

A Big Bend Rio Bravo Transboundary Protected Area, originally called Big Bend International Park, was first proposed to the US Government by Albert William Dorgan (1887-1985), of Castolon, Texas (in Big Bend National Park)  who wrote a letter to Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes–with a brief and plan for the establishment of an international park on the Rio Grande.  The first U.S. and Mexico agreement was signed at a joint international meeting in El Paso, Texas on November 24, 1935.

In a letter to His Excellency General Manual Avila Camacho, President of the United Mexican States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend (referring to the establishment of Big Bend National Park) will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.”

President Barack Obama signed a statement with Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, in 2012, expressing interest in realizing FDR’s dream, but at this time there are no plans by either country to establish an international park .  President Roosevelt envisioned that such a protected area would become a permanent monument and symbol of peace between the US and Mexico and a meeting ground where the people of both countries and citizens from all parts of the world could come together to learn about each other’s culture while coming to a better understand the natural world that they all share.

Creating a giant protected area would help both countries better address key issues such as water and air quality, control of invasive species, wildlife protection and management of wildland fire.

Next Steps

The Greater Big Bend Coalition is looking at ways to help the US and Mexico governments to designate lands currently protected by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Comisíon Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas as one giant Big Bend Rio Bravo international protected area.  Both countries would retain their national sovereignty over all lands within the protected area and each land management agency would continue to manage lands as authorized by each government.

The combined area would be managed using the successful model of cooperation at Waterton Glacier International Park on the US Canada border with each protected area managed and protected under their respective national legislative frameworks.   Guiding principles would be established relating to natural and cultural resource management, visitor use and interpretation, science and research and relations with peoples living in the area, reflecting strong cooperation among the property managers.  Management plans and their associated goals and objectives should be periodically reviewed and updated with all stakeholders.

The Boquillas International Crossing between the Big Bend National Park and Boquillas, Coahuila should be remain the sole crossing within the national park and no bridge should be built in Big Bend National Park.  International bridges built or reopened in the future such as La Linda Bridge north of Big Bend National Park, should be considered.

One possible next step to establish this now 80 plus year proposal for both countries would be for both countries to agree to a internationally recognized transboundary conservation agreement such as a International Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO. Legislation may not be required since the lands that could be included already have protected status.  The International designation could also be a symbolic gesture made by Presidential orders in the US and Mexico.

Eight protected areas could be included in any transboundary conservation designation. Each has distinctive climate, physiographic setting, mountain-desert interface and significant scenic values with abundant and diverse flora and fauna.

1.Big Bend National Park, Texas 801,163 acres
2.Maderas del Carmen Protected Area, Coahuila 520,000 acres
3.Ocampo Natural Protected Area, Coahuila Area 826,000 acres
4.Cañón de Santa Elena Protected Area, Chihuahua 511,508 acres
5.Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas 311,000-acre
6.Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, Texas 54,000 acres
7.Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River (196 mile portion of Rio Grande)
8.Monumento Río Bravo del Norte in México (300 mile portion of Rio Grande)

Total Size of Proposed Big Bend Rio Bravo Binational Natural Area –  3,023,671 acres / 4,724 square miles of contiguous parks and protected areas.  For comparison Waterton Glacier International Park is 1,130,788 acres (1,766 square miles).

Big Bend International Park Timeline