Cascadian Bioregionalism

There’s little natural about the boundaries that divide states and countries. They’re often imaginary lines that result from history, conflict, or negotiation. But imagine what the world would look like if borders were set according to ecological and cultural boundaries.

Bioregionalism is a movement, an ethic and idea that has been growing for more than four decades which seeks to do just that, by using natural features such as mountain ranges, and rivers as the basis for political and cultural units, rather than arbitrary lines on a map. Together, it is a political, cultural, and ecological set of views based on naturally defined areas called bioregions. At it roots it is a way to restructure society to work within each given region, rather than transforming each to human needs.

Cascadian Bioregionalism is rooted in the idea of bioregionalism, of using physical and cultural realities as a basis for administrative units, and creating ecological nations that use place appropriate technologies and indigenous ways of living to restore and re inhabit the places that we live.

 One key component of bioregionalism is recognizing and acknowledging that our societal identity—our shared sense of civic belonging—is shaped from the bioregion itself. Our shared traits and values as one common civic community comes in part from our shared geography, climate, flora, fauna, et cetera. Place shapes identity. This is why the shared culture and values of our region exist as they do and are recognized as they are.

The concept of Cascadian bioregionalism is closely identified with the environmental movement. In the early 1970s, the contemporary vision of bio-regionalism 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. 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. Cascadian bioregionalism deals with the connected ecological, environmental, economic and cultural ties that are prevelent throughout the Pacific Northwest and distance the area from their eastern counterparts. The argument is that those in Washington and Oregon have much more in common with those in British Columbia than those in Washington D.C. An argument which continues to gain ground as we enter a more global age, and as efforts to create integrated transportation and economic systems, stem pollution and global warming, and support sustainable alternatives increasingly requires the commitment of larger regional players.

The Cascadia Bioregion also referred to as the Pacific Northwest Bioregion) encompasses all or portions of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta. Bioregions are geographically based areas defined by land or soil composition, watershed, climate, flora, and fauna. The Cascadia Bioregion claims 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 has environmental stewardship as its primary goal, with the belief that political boundaries should match ecological and cultural boundaries.

Cascadia is named for the whitewaters pouring down the slopes of her mountains. Home of salmon & rivers, mountains & forests, Cascadia rises as a Great Green Land from the NE Pacific Rim.Cascadia curves from coast to crest–from the Pacific Ocean on the west, to the Rocky Mountains and Continental Divide on the east. On the seafloor Cascadia ranges from the Mendocino Fracture Zone on the south, to the Aleutian Trench in the corner of the Gulf of Alaska on the north.

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, shelter, and materials; and
  3. support the work of reinhabitation.[7]

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.[8]

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.

A key principle in bioregionalism is reinhabitation, which means building healthier ways of living that are responsible, ethical, that not only maintain but regenerative our local ecosystems, and working with our natural ecosystems, aligning human activity with our bioregions, rather than for human habitation. This is both on a societal level, and a personal one – which starts with every person developing a sense of place. Of rooting ourselves into the history, the things that make each region special – the plants, the animals, the types of soils, the mountains and rivers. How things change over time – why different areas get different rainfall – and how agriculture, energy production, buildings can all best tie into that in well thought out ways.

Bioregional movements work to connect these to ideas together. To shift our borders, governing models, and ways of living from non-bioregional ones – to bioregional ones. One government, or nation, or many governments and nations doesn’t ultimately matter, so much as every community large or small, that is impacted by a decision has a voice in that matter.

Bioregionalism is:

  • Short Term & Pragmatic. Works within our system to adopt policies and changes that move us in the right direction of bioregionalism, and away from systems which are actively harming our planet and communities.

  • Long Term & Visionary. Works outside of our system in ways that are utopian, visionary and long term.


The goal of Cascadian bioregionalism is simple:

  1. Root movements, ideas, organizations and individuals into their place.
  2. Use bioregions as frameworks for developing local economies, cultures and ways of living that are sustainable, responsible and ethical.
  3. improve the well being of our inhabitants, bioregions and planets.