Robert C. (Rob) Milne was a career National Park Service (NPS) employee whose work served as a bridge between the international conservation community and the NPS. His career spanned more than 34 years, including field and policy level assignments that prepared him for the challenges of
drawing on the Service’s’ globally recognized expertise and tailoring it to specific local needs, along with necessary policy and funding support for successful cooperative projects.
With a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Duke and a master’s degree in ecology from North Carolina State College, Rob was well prepared for his first NPS assignment when he was hired as a seasonal naturalist at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1961 by Vernon (Tom) Gilbert, the park’s chief naturalist. Living in a small cottage near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, Rob and his wife Tobey significantly increased visitors’ understanding and enjoyment of the national seashore.
Rob’s NPS career also included work at Glacier and Lassen national parks, Mather Training Center, the Eastern Service Center, the Division of New Program Development, and a detail to the Conservation Foundation. Rob was chosen early in his career for an international assignment. Supported by the World Wildlife Fund, in 1965 he became the first Education Warden for Kenya’s National Parks. This formative experience would influence the rest of his career. On his return to the U.S., Rob continued work in the environmental education field in the Office of Environmental Interpretation and with Bill Eddy co-authored Consider the Process of Living and a film for the Second World Congress on National Parks held at Yellowstone National Park in 1972.
In 1973, Rob returned to an international focus with an NPS detail to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources as an adjunct professor, where he developed and directed the International Seminar on National Park and Equivalent Reserves. This flagship program provided intensive field orientation and training to park personnel from around the world. By 1991, more than 700 park and protected area leaders from 108 nations had participated in the program. For many participants, these seminars had profound impacts on the management and development of park and protected area systems in their countries. He then became chief of the NPS Office of International Affairs from 1975 to 1996. The office grew significantly under his tenure through a variety of collaborative funding arrangements and staff assignments. He initiated and directed collaborative projects on every continent and in over 100 countries, working with people from different cultures and economic levels, ranging from the illiterate village farmer to government ministers and diplomats.
Meanwhile, Rob served for nine years as the vice chairman for North America for the Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, part of the World Conservation Union (now IUCN). He was also the U.S. government and/or NPS delegate/representative to multilateral and bilateral meetings, conferences, and negotiations in over 45 countries, and chair and vice chair of the 21 nation intergovernmental World Heritage Committee.
After retiring from the NPS, Rob served from 1996 to 1997 as principal policy advisor to the director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre in Paris and occasionally as its acting director. While working for UNESCO, he served as the chief of mission for the world heritage in danger assessment at the Plitvice World Heritage site in Croatia and led negotiations of UNESCO memoranda of understanding with IUCN, ICOMOS and ICCROM.
Reflecting on his career, Rob concluded, “The opportunity to make a difference and contribute domestically and internationally to making the world a better place to live has been extraordinarily satisfying.” By temperament and experience, he was a global citizen who could move smoothly through diplomatic and inter-cultural circles. Yet he also knew the importance of maintaining the credibility of the international program within the ranks of the Service. His friends and colleagues in the NPS and international conservation community appreciated his friendship and his efforts to make the world a better place. Thanks in part to his efforts, a generation of NPS staff were influenced favorably toward the Service’s global role and contributed individually and substantially to that role.
Rob passed away in 2012. His achievements in the fields of ecology, protected area training, planning and management, international heritage consulting, and site assessment were recognized through the conferral of numerous awards, including the Dubrovnik Gold Medal by the secretary general of UNESCO in Paris (1996), the Department of the Interior’s Distinguished Service Award (1996), Interior’s Meritorious Service Award (1989), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Commission on Protected Areas Fred Packard Award (1990).