The Cascadia Bioregion: Facts & Figures

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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. 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.

As of 2017, as measured by the combination of the states and provinces making up the Cascadia bioregion (not including California), Cascadia would be 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. 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. Its population would be similar in size to that of Ecuador, Guatemala, or Scandinavia.

Stretching along more than 2500 miles of Pacific coastline, Cascadia extends for as long and as far as the Salmon swim – from the glacial cold Copper River Watershed in South East Alaska to Cape Mendecino in the South and the Yellowstone Caldera in the East. 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.

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.

The most dominant sectors of Cascadia’s economy are agriculture, science and technology, trade, media and tourism. Much of the economic activity is concentrated in the coastal cities, while the inner areas are mostly focused on agriculture. The strongest economic areas are around the Cascadia megaregion, stretching from Vancouver, through Seattle to Portland and Eugene. Some of the largest and most well known companies include, Starbucks, Costco, Boeing, Microsoft, REI, Nordstrom, T-Mobile, Lions Gate, Nike, Adidas, Columbia Clothing and many others.

As part of this creative powerhouse, a unique balance and ecosystem of learning and livability must co-exist. Cascadia is home to the second largest tech hub in the world, one of the highest standards of living, as well as advanced medical and educational institutions.

As a coastal state, it is also a major gateway for trade to and from North America, and the the region has a rich maritime tradition. Together, Cascadia has the largest civilian ferry fleet in the world, holds nine of eleven deep water ports and dry-dock facilities on the West Coast of the United States and Canada, and is considered the ‘Thin Green Line’ between ecologically destructive resource extraction within the North America interior and heavily fossil fuel dependent economics on the other side of the pacific, as well as a ‘Gateway to Asia’ for inter-global supply of consumer goods and services.

While Cascadia generates a large percentage of its own energy via renewable resources, the area remains a heavily resource extraction dependent area, and provides large percentages of North American timber, minerals and mined resources for construction materials. The area also contains a wide degree of technical expertise able to develop, design and produce a huge range of state of the art civilian and military aircraft, and aviation technology. With the inclusion of Paulsbo, Bangor and the Trident Nuclear Submarine base only 20 miles west of Seattle, Cascadia currently has the largest stockpile of active nuclear warheads in the world, with more than a quarter (1300) of the roughly 4000 active warheads contained by all countries in the world combined.

With its diversity of ecosystems, from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, the East Coast Pacific region is one of the most ecologically rich farming areas in the United States[1]. Roughly 30% of land area within Cascadia is dedicated to farmland and ranching, and more than 300 different crops grow well. This includes producing 99% of hops used in North America, and to the west of the Cascade Range, deep soils and a mild maritime climate produce a vast array of fruits and vegetables. East of the Cascades, rolling, arid hills grow much of the nation’s wheat, potatoes, apples and pears.

This climate is also perfect for a newly emerging wine industry. Cascadia is the largest producer of premium wine in North America, with 1600+ wineries, bottles sold in all 50 states, and exported worldwide, and with an economic impact of more than 8.96 billion U.S. dollars annually. Washington State, the largest wine producing province, alone includes 350 grape growers and 50,000 acres of vineyards – approximately the size of Napa Valley.[3]

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. Some describe this culture as a rugged independent, self sufficient, and is described by some as a ‘progressive libertarianism’ that values the right of people to do as they please as long as it doesn’t negatively affect others, social systems that everyone needs or improves social well being such as education and healthcare, while maintaining a data based approach for fiscal accountability and responsibility. Reflecting this, Cascadia as a region was the first place in North America and much of the world, to legalize gay marriage and marijuana.

In a physical sense, the borders of Cascadia describe the journey that water makes as it flows from the edge of the Continental Crust, uplifted by the Cascadia Subduction Zone (also known as the Cascadia fault) as the Juan de Fuca plate slips underneath the North American in a convergent plate boundary that stretches from northern Vancouver Island in Canada to Northern California

This fault is responsible for deep earthquakes known as Cascadia megaquakes and the active volcanism of the Cascade mountains that has shaped our region for tens of thousands of years. A Cascadia Megaquake refers to large, deep thrust earthquakes along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The last Cascadia Megaquake occurred January 26, 1700 with an estimated moment magnitude of 8.7–9.2 and stretched from mid-Vancouver Island, south along the Pacific Northwest coast as far as northern California stretching for more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), with an average slip of 20 meters (66 ft), and resulted in a massive tsunamai felt as far away as Japan. Cascadia Megaquakes occur every 300-500 years. Much of Cascadian planning and co-operation still relies around increasing the resilience of our communities in the face of large earthquakes above a 9.0 magnitude that could impact the largest population centers in the region, such as Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and Portland, leading to tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. In the past these have included such notable eruptions as Mount Mazama (Crater Lake) about 7,500 years ago, the Mount Meager massif (Bridge River Vent) about 2,350 years ago, and Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Image of the Cascadia Bioregion, by David McCloskey, Cascadia Institute.

Image of the Cascadia Bioregion, by David McCloskey, Cascadia Institute.

Cascadia Quick Facts

Capital Undecided (likely Olympia, Portland, Salem, Seattle, Spokane or Portland)

Largest city: Seattle

Some of the top languages used: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Tagalog, Korean, German, Japanese, HIndi, French, Arabic, Khmer and Punjab.

Demonym: Cascadian

Total Area: 1,384,588 km2(534,592 sq mi)

Population: 16,029,520

GDP (2017): USD $1.112437 trillion (As measured by BC, WA, OR, AK, ID combined) or $1.613147 trillion (if including Northern California)

^ a. *2017 Statistics are compiled from US and Canadian census records by combining information from the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and the province of British Columbia. If the entire Cascadian bioregion was taken into account, GDP and population would be much higher. Many values use exchange rates, which may vary.

Top 10 Largest Cities by population

The most populous cities in the Cascadia Bioregion according to 2016 data, and not including greater metropolitan areas are as follows.

  1. Seattle – 684,451

  2. Vancouver B.C. – 631,490

  3. Portland – 602,568

  4. Spokane – 213,272. 

  5. Tacoma – 211,277.

  6. Boise – 205,671

  7. Vancouver – 174,826.

  8. Eugene – 158,131

  9. Salem -157,967

  10. Bellevue – 141,400