James Thorsell

Jim Thorsell studied science at the University of Alberta and the University of Western Ontario before completing an interdisciplinary PhD with specialization in parks management at the University of British Columbia in 1971. He began his career as a forest ranger at Banff National Park in 1962, and worked as a researcher and project manager in Canada before becoming involved in international conservation projects. He worked in East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) before moving to IUCN headquarters in Switzerland in 1983. He first headed the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) before taking over responsibility for the World Heritage program which continued until 1998. Under his leadership, field missions were introduced in 1985 for the evaluation of all natural sites nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List. A few years later, the IUCN World Heritage Panel was also created to improve the quality of assessments.

During his career with IUCN, Jim Thorsell carried out missions to more than 600 protected sites in 90 countries. In this context, he assessed and presented more than 150 properties nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List. In addition, he is an authority for cross-border parks, particularly in mountainous areas. He is the author of more than 300 publications on nature conservation and park management, including World Heritage: Twenty Years Later (IUCN, 1992) et World Heritage Convention: Effectiveness 1992-2002 and Lessons for Governance (IUCN and Parks Canada, 2003). In recognition of his significant contribution to the conservation of protected areas, he was awarded the 2004 IUCN Fred Packard Award and the Parks Canada Harkin Award in 2007.

The following audio excerpts are from an interview with Jim Thorsell by Christina Cameron in August 2010 in Banff. Thorsell explains the prominent role he played in IUCN's World Heritage activities for nearly twenty years and his observations on the evolution of the Convention throughout his career. In that regard, he particularly deplores the consequences of the growing politicization of the Committee on the credibility and quality of the World Heritage List. However, he remains convinced of the positive impact of the Convention on the conservation of many natural sites.

UNESCO, World Heritage Oral Archives, Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage, University of Montreal, audio interview of James Thorsell by Christina Cameron, Banff, Canada, 11 August 2010.