Crossing the Line: Evaluating and Practicing Transboundary Conservation

Terese Schomogyi


Environmental peacebuilding is a comprehensive theory and strategy to transform conflicts over natural resources into spaces for collaboration. One environmental peacebuilding practice is the creation of transboundary protected areas (TBPAs): cross-border regions or series of regions jointly reserved and managed by two or more neighboring states.

There are at least 227 TBPAs existing across the globe today with varying levels of success; because of this, scholars debate whether TBPAs are useful tools for environmental conservation and interstate peacebuilding. In this research, I use constructivist political theory and strategic peacebuilding theory as frameworks to evaluate the effectiveness of three TBPAs in their abilities to foster environmental protection, political norm change, and positive peacebuilding.

From these case study evaluations, I find that TBPAs are most successful when they work within the contexts of the states involved; focus primarily on environmental collaboration; involve non-state actors; consult and incorporate local and Indigenous populations into their management; and use formal documentation in such a way that they remain dynamic, creative, and open to informal collaboration. I then propose putting these findings into practice by applying them to the Sonoran Desert on the western U.S.-Mexico border and making five recommendations for a Sonoran Desert Borderlands Protected Area.