by Peter Berg Planet Drum Foundation

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 obvious 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.

Proposed States of the Western United States drawn along a  watershed model

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 geothermal and wind 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.

There is a strong affinity for bioregional thinking in many fields that relate to ecological sustainability.

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.

Bioregional Map of the Western United States

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.

© 2002 Peter Berg, Planet Drum Society

Cascadian Bioregionalism | What is Bioregionalism? | As a Megaregion | About Ecoregions