The Cascadia Bioregion

Cascadia Atlas

The Cascadia Bioregion encompasses all or portions of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta. Bioregion is short for ‘bio-cultural region’ and are geographically based areas defined by a physical traits; land or soil composition, watershed, climate, flora, and fauna; as well as the cultural traits of the inhabitants that live within them, and act upon them.

We are proud to share our first Cascadia Atlas webapp that can help highlight some of these layers and features.

Introduction to the Cascadia Bioregion

The Cascadia Bioregion includes the entire watershed of the Columbia River (as far as the Continental Divide), as well as the Cascade Range from Northern California well into Canada. The delineation of a bioregion is defined through watersheds and ecoregions, with the belief that political boundaries should match ecological and cultural boundaries, and that culture stems from place.

Stretching for more than 2500 along the Pacific Rim, the Cascadia bioregion includes British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of South East Alaska and Northern California, and is defined by the watersheds of the Fraser, Snake and Columbia River.

The Cascadia bioregion is home to slightly more than 16 million people (16,029,520), and would have an economy generating more than 1.613147 trillion worth of goods and services annually, placing it as the worlds 9th largest economy and roughly equivalent to that of Canada or Italy. Its population would be similar in size to that of Ecuador, Zambia, Cambodia, or the Netherlands.

By land area Cascadia would be the 20th largest country in the world, with a land area of 534,572 sq mi (1,384,588 km2), placing it behind Mongolia and ahead of Peru.

With a GDP of 356 billion, Cascadia’s largest city Seattle has an economy slightly smaller than Thailand, but larger than Colombia and Venezuela. The region also has one of the fastest growing clean energy sectors in the world, is energy sufficient, generating almost all of its energy based on renewable resources, and already exports electricity to surrounding states and provinces.

Bioregion is short for ‘bio-cultural region’ and are geographically based areas defined by a physical traits; land or soil composition, watershed, climate, flora, and fauna; as well as the cultural traits of the inhabitants that live within them, and act upon them.

The Cascadia bioregion was long united by indigenous cultures, and briefly as the Oregon Territory and Oregon Country before being split up and divided by colonial powers, but still retains a distinct regional culture, that bridges these boundaries. Here in Cascadia more than 500,000 people lived, hunted, fished and traded before colonial contact, brought together through a vast network that stretched over rivers, oceans, mountains and seas.

Bioregions exist whether humans are here or not. They form the natural countries of our planet, and from within each, place appropriate technologies and ways of living are grown over thousands of years. Watersheds, like Cascadia, transcend arbitrary borders, and are critical in understanding where our water comes from, and where it goes, as well as engaging with all of the communities affected by that discussion. Creating these holistic cultural, economic, ecological and democratic systems are why ideas like Cascadia are so important.

In general, the area in and around the Cascadia region is more commonly referred to as the Pacific Northwest. The area’s biomes and ecoregions are distinct from surrounding areas. The resource-rich Salish Sea (or Georgia Basin) is shared between British Columbia and Washington, and the Pacific temperate rain forests, comprising the world’s largest temperate rain forest zone, stretch along the coast from Alaska to California.

Cascadia contains the largest tracts of untouched old growth temperate rainforests in the world, including 7 of the top 10 worlds carbon absorbing forests, the worlds tallest trees, thousands of volcanoes, hot springs, rivers, lakes, inlets, island and ocean, and some of the last diminishing, though still impressive wild habitats of salmon, wolves, bear, whale, orca. In all –  more than 350 bird and mammal species, 48 reptiles, hundreds of fungi, lichen, and and thousands of invertebrates and soil organisms call Cascadia home.

The Columbia River watershed alone, the largest in Cascadia, includes parts of six US states and one Canadian province. Its border is traced, “not by governments or treaties, but by every drop of liquid that finds a common path to the ocean”.

The Cascadia Bioregion includes major rivers such as the:

  • Clearwater, Eel, Rogue, Deschutes, Bulkley, and Bella Coola.

  • Columbia, Fraser, Skeena, Snake, Stikine,

  • Flathead, Salmon, Nechako, Klinaklini,

  • Klamath, Skagit, Lillooet-Harrison, Clearwater,

  • Shohomish, Homathko, Iskut, Cowlitz, Taku,

  • Squamish, Quesnel, Santiam, Umpqua, Spokane,

  • Willamette, Alsek, Kootenay, Nass, Thompson, and Pend Oreille.

List of Cascadia Ecoregions:

Olympic Chehalis/Willapa Cowlitz/Lewis Columbia Gorge Yakama Okanagan Kettle Highlands Salish Sea Mountain Valleys West Coast Icefields/Fjordland/Sunshine Coast Lillooet Kamloops/Nicola Plateau Fraser Plateau Chilcotin/Nazka Plateau Kwakiutl Anahim/Tweedsmuir Bella Coola/Coastal Gap Nechako Plateau Fraser Basin Bulkley Takla-Stuart/Babine Lakes Lower Skeena Nass Skeena-Nass Tlingit Archipelago Stikine Iskut Stikine Plateau Taku Glacier Bay/Fairweather Alsek Tatshenshini Kluane/St. Elias/Yakutat St. Regis/Bitterroot Palouse Coeur d’Alene/ Spokane Blackfoot/Clark Fork Flathead Kutenai/Kalispell Pend Oreille/Selkirks Kootenay Lakes/Kokanee Columbia Plateau Shuswap/Monashee Highlands Columbia Icefields Thompson/Clearwater Highlands Cariboo/Quesnel Highlands Fraser Headwaters Cape Mendocino/Mattole Upper Eel Trinity Redwood/Humboldt Siskiyou/Klamath Shasta Klamath Lakes /Modoc Rogue/Umpqua Coos/Coquille Siuslaw/Dunes and Lakes Alsea/Siletez Willamette Deschutes/High Level Desert Chinook/Tillamook Snow Cap Plateau Yellowstone Tetons Lost Rivers Bannock Owyhee/Shoshone Sun Valley/Wood River Snake River Plain Boise/Payette Sawtooths Lemhi/Challis Malheur Ochoco/John Day Nez Perce-Wallowa/Grand Ronde Salmon Nez Perce-Clearwater/Selway Walla Walla/Umatilla

Each layer of information is brought together to represent the regional system. No one single factor (e.g. climate) explains everything. From these layers, we can gather a better understanding of our place, and a better framework for decision making and interaction with other areas. To understand the entire region, we must comprehend this system of relationships.

Reflecting this, federal policy planners have increasingly shifted to watershed and ecoregional planning frameworks. Government agencies at the regional, state, national and international levels are working to adopt more holistic approaches to stop dealing with single issues, or ‘point-source’ problems, to broader, regional approaches that greater take in an entire area, those most affected, and create better solutions.

By starting with communities in each watershed, which will have distinct needs and shared concerns that stem from that place, and creating a dialogue that spans along an entire watershed, bioregional systems and organizing create a more systemic and holistic approach to solving many of the regions, and worlds greatest challenges.

Facts about the Cascadia Bioregion

Ecoregions… Bioregions…what exactly?

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. In the more than 750,000 square miles of Cascadia, ecoregions 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.