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Cascadia Bioregion

What is bioregionalism?

Northwest Writing and Regional Identity: Introductory Essay

Over the years there has been many articles explaining bioregionalism. The following are some of those articles:

The following are quotes by the bioregionalist named Alexander:

Bioregionalism (short definition) is:
The conscousness or awareness of the interconnectedness of the water-life cycle within a given region.

Hence a bioregionalist is one that advocates for the awakening in conscousness and the protection of the water-life cycle.

Even of the driest of deserts a bioregion is defined by its water-life cycle no matter how long and seemingly sparse of a cycle that is.

The great water-life cycles are actually the generation and transfer of energy.

What is a Bioregion?
"Bioregions are geographic areas having common characteristics of soil, watershed, climate, native plants and animals that exist within the whole planetary biosphere as unique and contributive parts. A bioregion refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness -- to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place. A bioregion can be determined initially by use of climatology, physiography, animal and plant geography, natural history and other descriptive resonance among living things and the factors that influence them which occurs specifically within each separate part of the planet. Discovering and describing that resonance is a way to describe a bioregion."

Peter Berg & Raymond Dasmann

Reinhabiting a Separate Country
Planet Drum Foundation, 1978


(Defined and Updated 2002)

By Peter Berg

The catastrophic effects on Earth's biosphere due to human activities since the inception of the industrial era have become imperiling to all life. A transformation of fundamental aspects of consciousness is urgently required to halt and reverse this destructive process. Conservation of resources and environmentalism alone are not adequate to the task. The concept of a bioregion as the basic location where people live, and the practice of reinhabitation of that life-place by its residents, are necessary to rejoin human beings into the overall web of life. Harmonizing with the natural systems of each bioregion is a necessary step toward preserving the whole biosphere.

A bioregion is defined in terms of the unique overall pattern of natural characteristics that are found in a specific place. The main features are generally found throughout a continuous geographic terrain and include a particular climate, local aspects of seasons, landforms, watersheds, soils, and native plants and animals. People are also counted as an integral aspect of a place's life, as can be seen in the ecologically adaptive cultures of early inhabitants, and in the activities of present day reinhabitants who attempt to harmonize in a sustainable way with the place where they live.

Because it is a cultural idea, the description of a specific bioregion is drawn using information from not only the natural sciences but also many other sources. It is a geographic terrain and a terrain of consciousness. Anthropological studies, historical accounts, social developments, customs, traditions, and arts can all play a part. Bioregionalism utilizes them to accomplish three main goals: 1) restore and maintain local natural systems; 2) practice sustainable ways to satisfy basic human needs such as food, water, energy, housing, and materials; and 3) support the work of reinhabitation. The latter is accomplished through proactive projects, employment and education, as well as by engaging in protests against the destruction of natural elements in a life-place.

Bioregional goals play out in a spectrum of different ways for different places. In North America, for example, restoring native prairie grasses is a basic ecosystem-rebuilding activity for reinhabitants of the Kansas Area Watershed Bioregion in the Midwest, whereas bringing back salmon runs has a high priority for Shasta Bioregion in northern California. Using biomass as a renewable energy source fits Cascadia Bioregion in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Less cloudy skies in the Southwest's sparsely vegetated Sonoran Desert Bioregion make direct solar energy a more plentiful alternative there. Education about local natural characteristics and conditions varies diversely from place to place, along with bioregionally significant social and political issues

In the early 1970s, the contemporary vision of bioregionalism began to be formed through collaboration between natural scientists, social and environmental activists, artists and writers, community leaders, and back-to-the-landers who worked directly with natural resources. They wanted to do "more than just save what's left" in regard to nature, wildness and the biosphere. Planet Drum Foundation in San Francisco became a voice for this sentiment through its publications about applying place-based ideas to environmental practices, society, cultural expressions, philosophy, politics, and other subjects. By the late 70s, bioregional organizations such as the Frisco Bay Mussel Group in northern California and Ozark Area Community Congress on the Kansas-Missouri border were founded to articulate local economic, social, political, and cultural agendas. The Mussel Group eventually played a pivotal role in persuading the public to vote down a bioregionally lethal Peripheral Canal proposal to divert fresh water away from San Francisco Bay. The Ozarks group has held continuous annual gatherings to promote and support place-based activities. At present there are hundreds of similar groups (and publications) in North and South America, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

There is a strong affinity for bioregional thinking in many fields that relate to ecological sustainability. Restoration ecology practitioners readily grasp the importance of an appreciative local culture for their efforts to revive native plants and animals. Urban ecology advocates use bioregions for "nesting" their redesigned cities in a broad natural context. Permaculturalists and most organic farmers employ techniques that are appropriate to their particular locales and insist on maintaining soils, water sources, and native species. Poets, painters, theater groups, and other artists have embraced bioregional themes in their works. Grade school teachers introduce bioregional concepts, and graduate schools recognize theses and dissertations based on them. Followers of Deep Ecology claim bioregionalists as a social manifestation of their biocentric philosophy. Even traditional conservation and environmental groups including the Sierra Club have subsequent to the inception of bioregionalism adopted a system of "ecoregions" to address members" problems in home areas.

Bioregionalists are primarily concerned with their own local areas. There are a surprisingly large number of opportunities to address everyday living conditions for the benefit of local sustainability; as wide-ranging as resident-based reforestation projects in rural areas and community gardens in cities. Their influence is felt most strongly on county and city levels because this is where they take place and are most visible. Watershed-based organizations with bioregional priorities for basins as small as a creek or as large as the Great Lakes are a steadily growing phenomenon. Their recommendations to boards, councils, and other agencies aren't limited to creek restoration, water conservation, and other obvious issues, but may also include redrawing political borders to fit watershed lines and adopting ecological urban plans.

On a broader level, representatives of the bioregional movement from far- flung places have held gatherings and congresses in Canada, Italy, Mexico, and the US that resulted in the formulation of general principles and statements of intent like the often-reprinted proclamation "Welcome Home". The defense of bioregions from globalist intrusions is a persistent issue that requires especially creative responses. When the town of Tepoztlan in Mexico was threatened with loss of traditional water rights and political autonomy by multinational land developers, bioregionalists from throughout North America assisted in mounting a resistance that was eventually approved by the Mexican government. Most recently, the destructive ecological impact and official "greenwashing" of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake Bioregion was investigated and successfully exposed to international media coverage through Guard Fox Watch, a monitoring group made up of bioregional activists from Japan and the US. More bioregional alliances to defend particularly threatened places can be expected in the future.

Understanding the Concept of Ecoregions

by David D. McClosky
1997 Cascadia Institutue

Ecoregions are the rooms in the house of a bioregion. Ecoregion is short-hand for regional ecosystem. An ecoregion is a relatively similar area united by common geography, ecology, and culture. Ecoregions are distinct places which help articulate the internal diversity of a large and complex region such as Cascadia.
The purpose of ecoregional mapping is two-fold: one, to provide a common, integrative framework for management of natural resources, and two, for deeper social identification with the land and each other, and thus, better political organization.
An ecoregion is known in two ways: internally by its distinctive character (e.g. the Okanogan Highlands), and externally by its context in the region (e.g. Okanogan in relation to the Columbia Plateau and Coeur d'Alene-Spokane).
An ecoregion may be analyzed on physical, biological, and cultural levels. First, we map the landforms, geology, climate, and hydrology, and how these environmental factors work together to create a common template for life in that particular place. Second, we map the flora and fauna, especially the characteristic vegetative communities, and link them to their habitats. Third, we look at native peoples, western settlement, and current land-use patterns and problems, in interaction with the first two levels.
Each layer of information is brought together to represent the regional system. No one single factor (e.g. climate) explains everything. The inner structure of an ecoregion is organized as a series of intersecting gradients; temperature and precipitation changing with elevation, in alternating belts of vegetation along windward and leeward sides of a parallel series of mountain ranges, with biodiversity thinning toward the edges. Such flows of energy, matter, and information form a distinctive matrix. To understand the region, we must comprehend this system of relationships.
Boundaries are natural, and often found as soft transitional areas rather than hard-edged political lines on a map. The boundary is a convergent threshold where many layers intersect, located where several significant factors end and begin. Borders articulate the natural envelope of the place--its centers and bounds--and link this diversity into the larger world.
Since ecological systems are open and lack definite boundaries, in complex terrain, watersheds are often used to represent ecosystems on a landscape level. Here, ecoregions are often drawn as a series of contiguous watersheds with similar character and context. However, where other factors predominate--such as landforms, tectonic suites, regional rivers, vegetative breaks, or major cultural boundaries--then watershed lines may be crossed. In each case, the key is to be true to the land and its people.
In terms of size, an ecoregion is larger than a watershed and smaller than a bioregion; or in political terms, larger than a county and smaller than a state or province. There are over 75 ecoregions in the more than 750,000 square miles of Cascadia. Thus, they average about 10,000 square miles each, though ranging from 2,000 to over 30,000 square miles; again, size depends upon the unique character and context of the place itself. An ecoregion in Cascadia often covers several degrees of latitude and perhaps longitude.
No ecoregion is self-contained but rather is intertwined with others as houses within houses. The ecoregion is a mediating level linked to the habitat or neighborhood, and watershed, on smaller scales, and to the bioregion, continent, and planet, on larger scales in many complex ways. We seek to understand the structure, function, and evolution of each ecoregion in terms of this larger system of relationships.
As a practical matter, ecoregions may be flexibly combined and recombined in different configurations to fit changing condi-tions and special purposes. For instance, Okanogan could be linked to Mountain Valleys and the Selkirks-Pend Oreille for one application, and with the Columbia Plateau and Coeur d'Alene-Spokane for another task, or they could all be combined for a third purpose.  Ecoregions provide a general purpose map of the local world, as we seek to comprehend the life of the place as a whole.

Cascadia: Bedrock to Biology

by Janet Johnson
1994 Seattle University News
excerted with permission

Cascadia sits on its own tectonic plates, called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The continental shelf offshore is called the Cascadia Shelf. The largest offshore feature on the sea floor is the Cascadia Basin, fed by the Columbia River, which shoots a plume of fresh water 200 miles out to sea.

Although less than 10 percent of the continent, Cascadia contributes 20 to 25 percent of the total surface runoff. Twenty of the 40 largest rivers on the continent are fed by Cascadian waters.

Other natural commonalities among the ecoregions comprising Cascadia, include weather patterns, ocean currents, water temperature and salinity and river systems. Cascadia is a fertile meeting ground of winds and waters, located in between the contrasting weather pressure cells of the Aleutian low and the Pacific high. These swirling g 6yres spin out the powerful mid-latitude jet streams that spray storm fronts in great wave-trains across the face of our region. The migrating border between the two weather cells as they move up and down the coast from the deserts of Baja Mexico to the taiga of Alaska is called spring and fall. Thus Cascadia is winter wet and summer dry. "We enjoy the longest, deepest, most beautiful springtime in the world here," says David McCloskey.

These ecoregions also share common flora and fauna. Within Cascadia's boundaries live the salmon. This is the home of the beaver and the ancient forest. The southern-most cedar grove is found near Cape Mendocino, where the San Andreas fault goes out to sea, marking the southern boundary of Cascadia.

Ecology & Community: The Bioregional Vision

by David Mc Closkey

…I’ve been watching Seattle slip-slide away in Puget Sound for four months now, from late December to late April…

…The pure, predictable power of these swollen rivers of mud builds up an enormous hydraulic head until it finally bursts forth in a torrent of debris, clearing everything in its path…

…Our human contribution to the acceleration of such problems is enormous. Consider how we have altered Seattle’s landscape: paved surfaces, flattened hills, rerouted or killed springs and creeks, channellized and diked rivers, filled in wetlands, built everywhere, stripped away the native vegetation, expunged the fauna, and introduced exotic species…

…We need to wake up and return to our senses, as if from a long, drugged sleep…The very ground on which we stand seems to be washing out from under our feet…

…It’s as if we’ve been under a spell--one that does not enchant but rather ensnares us…

…From the perspective of everyday life, the dominant dynamic of the emerging age is displacement…

…Such a double displacement of the land and its peoples reveal many parallels…

…pervasive displacement of native-to-the-place life on all levels is linked, of course, to that forbidden word, domination…

…Today, global has come to mean globular, everything melted into one under their [global economic orders] control…

…when the central problematics of the era become the twin evils of displacement and degradation, the the answers we need to response are reinhabitation and restoration…

…The bioregional idea is not about the environment in general, but about specific life-places that we inhabit on a daily basis…

…Coming home to a bioregion means, first of all, learning how to reinhabit it, and then restoring its natural and social systems…

…Reinhabitation involves the twin processes of orientation and identification. It means, first, finding a truer orientation to the character and context of the lif-place we inhabit, and the, second, deepening our identification with it. Instead of claiming a territory as your own, when you fall in love with the land you may find yourself claimed by it instead! While such attunement is an individual matter, it is also a collective, culture-creating process…

…Ecology and community are two sides of the same river of life. Since they are being lost together around the world, they also need to be restored together…Our goals here are, first, to help maintain and restore the integrity and vitality of our natural systems on a bioregional scale, and, second, to revitalize local economies and communities…

…sustainability is fast becoming a mirage…Sustainable is an abstraction, an adjective in search of a noun…

…No--the problem today is not sustainability but rather viability; indeed, there can be no sustainability without viability! For the ecological crisis is now more concerned with the lower thresholds of viability of species and habitats rather than maximum flows of resource commodities…

…when ecological degradation, fragmentation, and simplification lead to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, then we must seek to restore the health of those systems…

…who is going to do the real work of restoration?…what should be the role of community and culture in long-term restoration?…

…Communities can provide the essential social basis for restoration. And restoration is also a community-building practice--it works both ways…

…where is the money for restoration going to come from?…ecoregions…could establish their own dedicated ecological restoration trust funds…watershed or ecoregional councils could serve as responsible agents, with rules to ensure proper use in perpetuity as in land trusts or other public trusts…

…All over our region, we see the emergence of a spontaneous grassroots movement to restore ecology and community together. Every community has its commons, and it’s time we restore them to health."