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One scheme of potential North American bioregions. The band of colour represent transitional biotones.

Bioregionalism is a philosophy that suggests that political, cultural, and economic systems are more sustainable and just if they are organized around naturally defined areas called bioregions, similar to ecoregions. Bioregions are defined through physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries and soil and terrain characteristics. Bioregionalism stresses that the determination of a bioregion is also a cultural phenomenon, and emphasizes local populations, knowledge, and solutions.[1][example needed]

Bioregionalism is a concept that goes beyond national boundaries—an example is the concept of Cascadia, a region that is sometimes considered to consist of most of Oregon and Washington, the Alaska Panhandle, the far north of California and the West Coast of Canada, sometimes also including some or all of Idaho and western Montana.[2] Another example of a bioregion, which does not cross national boundaries, but does overlap state lines, is the Ozarks, a bioregion also referred to as the Ozarks Plateau, which consists of southern Missouri, northwest Arkansas, the northeast corner of Oklahoma, southeast corner of Kansas.[3]

Bioregions are not synonymous with ecoregions as defined by bodies such as the World Wildlife Fund or the Commission for Environmental Cooperation; the latter are scientifically based and focused on wildlife and vegetation. Bioregions, by contrast are human regions, informed by nature but with a social and political element. In this way bioregionalism is simply political localism with an ecological foundation.


The term was coined by Allen Van Newkirk, founder of the Institute for Bioregional Research, in 1975,[4] given currency by Peter Berg and Raymond F. Dasmann in the early 1970s,[5] and has been advocated by writers such as David Haenke[6] and Kirkpatrick Sale.[7]

The bioregionalist perspective opposes a homogeneous economy and consumer culture with its lack of stewardship towards the environment. This perspective seeks to:

  • Ensure that political boundaries match ecological boundaries.[8]
  • Highlight the unique ecology of the bioregion.
  • Encourage consumption of local foods where possible.
  • Encourage the use of local materials where possible.
  • Encourage the cultivation of native plants of the region.
  • Encourage sustainability in harmony with the bioregion.[9]

Bioregional mapping is a powerful tool to increase understanding, change the story and influence policy. A good bioregional map shows layers of geology, flora, fauna, and inhabitation over time. All the interdisciplinary content that is integrated in this kind of map makes it a great communication tool to illustrate an ecological approach. One of the best examples of a richly communicative bioregional map is David McClosky's new map of Cascadia.

Relationship to environmentalism[edit]

Bioregionalism, while akin to modern environmentalism in certain aspects, such as a desire to live in harmony with nature, differs in certain ways from the 20th century movement.[10]

According to Peter Berg, bioregionalism is proactive, and is based on forming a harmony between human culture and the natural environment, rather than being protest-based like the original environmental movement. Also, modern environmentalists saw human industry in and of itself an enemy of environmental stability, viewing nature as a victim needing to be saved; bioregionalists see humanity and its culture as a part of nature, focusing on building a positive, sustainable relationship with both the sociological and ecological environments, rather than a focus on completely preserving and segregating the wilderness from the world of humanity.[10]

In this way the sentiments of Bioregionalism echo those of Classical Environmentalism, and early environmentalists such as Henry David Thoreau are sometimes viewed as predecessors of the Bioregionalist movement.

History of Bioregionalism[edit]

Bioregionalism emerged in the 1970s, developing primarily along the western coast of North America, and specifically from a broad coalition of poets, artists, writers, community leaders, and back-to-the-landers, and from the Digger movement which had grown in the late 1960s Beat Scene in San Francisco, and as a counter to the mainstream environmental movement, which many felt was reactionary and negative. They envisioned a positive, place-based[clarification needed] alternative to mainstream efforts within a capitalist framework, or those of nation-states or other international bodies.[11] This included many different individuals, including "Peter Berg, Judy Goldhaft, Raymond Dasmann, Kirkpatrick Sale, Judith Plant, Eleanor Wright, Doug Aberley, Stephanie Mills, Jim Dodge, Freeman House, Van Andruss, David Haenke, and Gary Snyder", working together through the Planet Drum foundation, and similar groups to create a new place-based philosophy they called bioregionalism.[11]

Bioregionalism also directly grew from a relationship with the civil rights and American Indian Movement, and efforts to reclaim their languages, territories and maps, and what bioregionalists saw as the global collapse of traditional ecological knowledge, language suppression and revitalization, and a hope that maps reframing names from "North America" to "Turtle Island" would help bioregions become frameworks for decolonization, as well as more accurate cultural representation and recognition of Indigenous sovereignty. It also grew from civil rights movement, anti-war movement, anti-nuclear movement, the Diggers, as well as an increasing awareness of pervasive ecological pollution, especially in areas like Los Angeles.[12][13][14]

Planet Drum Foundation[edit]

Starting in 1973, Planet Drum Foundation in San Franscisco became a leading institution promoting bioregionalism. They published a series of publications looking at place, poetry, cultural expression, politics, art and many other subjects. From this group, other early bioregional groups started, such as the Frisco Bay Mussel Group, Raise the Stakes newsletters, and Bioregional Bundles that would carry the bioregional movement forward for the next several decades.

This started by creating bioregional “Bundles” that they would publish each year, that would be distinct to a bioregion, and help the people within that place define that bioregion. Each envelope would contain many different pieces of poetry, art, writing, science documents, and place-specific technology booklets, articles, maps, posters, photographs, directories, and calendars.[15] From 1973 to 1985 Planet Drum published nine Bundles, on topics ranging as far as North America, South America, the Arctic Circle, West Africa, Morocco, the Pacific Rim, Japan, and China.[15] From 1979-2000, Planet Drum began publishing Raise The Stakes, the Planet Drum Review, a bi-annual international publication which became an important central voice for the bioregional movement, bioregional organizers around North America and world, and for defining the term bioregion among those using it.[16] By 1990, Planet Drum served as node for more than 250 bioregionally oriented groups in North America, including Canada and Mexico, with emerging movements in Australia, Latin America, Italy and Spain.[17]

Murray Bookchin and the Institute for Social Ecology[edit]

This new movement grew strongly also on earlier work from Murray Bookchin, who ran the Institute for Social Ecology, and was deeply involved in influencing and helping define the early bioregional movement. Drawing on earlier traditions beginning with Ecology and Revolutionary Thought in 1964 Bookchin argued for the reorganization of American society based upon a decentralized regional model which would each encompass a single bioregion or ecosystem. His organization, the Institute for Social Ecology worked with the Planet Drum Foundation for the increased implementation of alternative forms of energy, reduction and restriction of carbon dioxide emissions, anti-globalism, and the implementation of a bioregional approach to economic development. For Bookchin, a bioregional approach to economic development accepted one of the basic assertions of Social Ecology that a human community is fundamentally a part of a total ecosystem.[18] Furthermore, Bookchin felt that humans were a part of an earth society:

We might also conceive of this role as an expression of a kind of citizenship — if we think of ourselves not only as citizens of a town, city or neighborhood, but also as citizens of our ecosystem, of our bioregion, of our georegion, and of the earth itself.

— Murray Bookchin, Municipal Dreams: Citizenship and Self-Identity

Peter Berg, writing about his experience helping to write the "Bioregions" issue of Coevolution Quarterly in the late 70's worked with Bookchin' to use his Ecology of Freedom, which Berg claimed to be an "invaluable help to set the autonomous and self-governing tone of bioregional discourse."[19]

Bioregional Congresses[edit]

Proceedings from the first Cascadia Bioregional Congress at The Evergreen State College in 1986.

A major evolution in how bioregions were defined also occurred alongside this work in the mid-1980s, and can be attributed to David Haenke (b. 1945), Inspired by the call of Peter Berg, who released "Amble towards a Continental Congress"[20] in 1976 for the bicentennial of the United States founding, Haenke conceptualized the Ozark Area Community Congress in 1977, started the Bioregional Project in 1982, launched the Ozarks Bioregional Congress in 1980, and then launched the first ever North American Bioregional Congress (NABC) in 1984.[21][22][23]

David Haenke would also go on to be one of the founders of the United States Green Party, which he viewed as a political wing of the bioregional movement.[24]

David Haenke had two questions he asked while defining a bioregion:

In defining a bioregion there are two main questions that you’ll need to ask: What is your effective organizing area? What and where are your resources and potential participants? Bioregional boundaries are never “hard.” There is no bioregional map of North America or the world, but the closest base maps are things like World Biogeographical Provinces Map by Miklos Udvardy and Ted Oberlander. But these provinces are huge, containing a number of bioregions that are not yet delineated. Many people use watersheds as ultimate definers, and if your group identifies strongly with a particular watershed, hydrologic survey maps may help you determine borders.

— David Haenke,, Organizing a Bioregional Congress, NABC II, Proceedings 1986.

From 1984 through the 2010s, many regional groups, such as the Great Lakes, Kansas, Cascadia, would hold regional "Bioregional Congresses" for specific bioregions, and then every two years would gather as part of a North American bioregional congress.[25] Cascadia for example held its first Cascadia Bioregional Congress at The Evergreen State College in 1986,[26] an Ish River confluence in 1987,[27] another Bioregional Congress in 1988 at Breitenbush in Oregon,[28] and a third congress in Lillooet in British Columbia in 1989. This was also timed for the third North American Bioregional Congress which took place in Samish in 1988.[29][30]

Bioregional Learning Centers[edit]

The idea of bioregions, and their uses was again expanded by Donella Meadows, author of The Limits to Growth in 1972, and was the primary premise for her to launch the Balaton Group in 1982. A big part of this for her, was using bioregions as the basis for "bioregional learning centers", each of which would be responsible for a discrete bioregion. In her words, the purpose of a bioregion was to:[31][32][33]

Help people and cultures all over the world develop and express their own capacity to solve their own problems, consistent with their own needs and with the ecosystems around them. And doing that through enhancing the power within all cultures and peoples to combine intellectual knowing and intuitive knowing, reasoning about the earth and living in consonance with it, and of a number of centers where information and models about resources and the environment are housed. There would need to be many of these centers, all over the world, each one responsible for a discrete bioregion.

— Donella Meadows, Bioregional Essays: Bioregional Centres - Donella Meadows' Vision for Deep Local Change. Statement to the Belaton Group, 1982

In politics[edit]

North American Bioregional Assemblies have been meeting at bi-annual gatherings of bioregionalists throughout North America since 1984 and have given rise to national level Green Parties. The tenets of bioregionalism are often used by green movements, which oppose political organizations whose boundaries conform to existing electoral districts. This problem is perceived to result in elected representatives voting in accordance with their constituents, some of whom may live outside a defined bioregion, and may run counter to the well-being of the bioregion.

At the local level, several bioregions have congresses that meet regularly. For instance, the Ozark Plateau bioregion hosts a yearly Ozark Area Community Congress, better known as OACC, which has been meeting every year since 1980,[34] most often on the first weekend in October. The Kansas Area Watershed, "KAW" was founded in 1982 and has been meeting regularly since that time.[35] KAW holds a yearly meeting, usually in the spring.

The government of the Canadian province of Alberta created the "land-use framework regions" in 2007 roughly corresponding to each major river basin within the province. This is supported by local initiatives such as the Beaver Hills Initiative to preserve an ecoregion which encompasses Elk Island National Park and the surrounding area.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alexander, Don (1996). "Bioregionalism: The Need For a Firmer Theoretical Foundation". Trumpeter v13.3. Archived from the original on November 5, 2018.
  2. ^ "Cascadia: The New Frontier". Cascadia Prospectus. February 12, 2010. Archived from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  3. ^ "About OACC Ozark Area Community Congress". OACC Ozark Area Community Congress. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  4. ^ McGinnis, Michael Vincent (1999). Bioregionalism. London and New York: Routledge. p. 22. ISBN 041515444-8.
  5. ^ Berg, Peter; Dasmann, Raymond (1977). "Reinhabiting California". The Ecologist. 7 (10).
  6. ^ Mongillo, John F.; Booth, Bibi (2001). Environmental Activists. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9780313308840 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Anderson, Walter Truett. There's no going back to nature, Mother Jones (September/October 1996)
  8. ^ Davidson, S. (2007) "The Troubled Marriage of Deep Ecology and Bioregionalism," Environmental Values, vol. 16(3): 313-332
  9. ^ Bastedo, Jamie. Shield Country: The Life and Times of the Oldest Piece of the Planet, Red Deer Press, 1994. ISBN 0-88995-191-8
  10. ^ a b "Peter Berg of Planet Drum". Sustainable-city.org. 1998-02-12. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  11. ^ a b Lynch, Tom (2016-06-01). "Always Becoming Bioregional: An Identity for the Anthropocene". Caliban. French Journal of English Studies (55): 103–112. doi:10.4000/caliban.3324. ISSN 2425-6250.
  12. ^ "Bioregional". The Decolonial Atlas. 2021-07-10. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  13. ^ Resilience (2023-01-10). "A Turtle Island Atlas!". resilience. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  14. ^ "Turtle Island Decolonized". The Decolonial Atlas. 2023-10-09. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  15. ^ a b "The Biosphere and the Bioregion: Essential Writings of Peter Berg". Routledge & CRC Press. Retrieved 2024-03-03.
  16. ^ Staff, Planet Drum (2023-06-11). "Raise the Stakes Archive". Planet Drum Foundation. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  17. ^ "Planet Drum Home Page". planetdrum.org. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  18. ^ Hyams, Aaron David (2011). Fifty Years on the Fringe: Murray Bookchin and the American Revolutionary Tradition 1921-1971. The University of Montana.
  19. ^ Berg, Peter (2006-08-09). "Some Encounters with Murray Bookchin". Planet Drum Foundation. Retrieved 2024-03-27.
  20. ^ "Bundle: Amble Towards Continent Congress, by Peter Berg". Planet Drum Foundation. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  21. ^ "Organizing a Bioregional Congress". Cascadia Underground. 2024-02-09. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  22. ^ "The North American Bioregional Congress". Context Institute.
  23. ^ "The bioregional vision: Living in and loving your own place". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  24. ^ "Collection: David Haenke Collection on Applied Ecocentrism". uark.as.atlas-sys.com. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  25. ^ "Bioregion". gvix. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  26. ^ "First Cascadia Congress". Cascadia Underground. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  27. ^ "Ish River Bioregional Confluence 1987". Cascadia Underground. 2020-11-13. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  28. ^ "Second Bioregional Congress of Pacific Cascadia". Cascadia Underground. 2022-04-10. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  29. ^ "Bioregionalism: Regaining Our Sense of Place". Cascadia Underground. 2020-09-27. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  30. ^ "North American Bioregional Congress - 3rd Proceedings". Planet Drum Foundation. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  31. ^ "Bioregional Essays: Bioregional Centres - Donella Meadows' Vision for Deep Local Change". Cascadia Department of Bioregion. 2019-04-20. Retrieved 2024-03-27.
  32. ^ Carlisle, Isabel (2022-02-02). "The bioregional vision of Donella Meadows". The Bioregional Learning Centre UK. Retrieved 2024-03-27.
  33. ^ jenander (2019-12-23). "What was Donella Meadow's vision for Bioregional Learning Centres?". The Really Regenerative Centre. Retrieved 2024-03-27.
  34. ^ "About OACC Ozark Area Community Congress". OACC Ozark Area Community Congress. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  35. ^ "Kansas Area Watershed Council History". March 8, 2009. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  36. ^ "Home | Beaver Hills Initiative". www.beaverhills.ca. Retrieved 2017-02-21.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]