Friday, December 11, 2009


Bioregionalism and Ecosystem Management:

Healing Man’s Relationships with Nature

Bioregionalism is a viable ecosystem management praxis because it combines the romantic aspect of conscious human awareness of nature as a nurturing, cooperative, and healing force, with the rationalistic tools of practical application. It is an ecological discourse that seeks to define and inform. The definition of ecosystems by their biological nature and the importance of informing the human species about their environment are both underlying premises of Bioregional success: Before the correction of any environmental problem can take place, the ecological system– the bioregion–must be fully understood Since Bioregionalists believe that ecosystem destruction is directly related to the activities and philosophies of man, equally important to the Bioregional philosophy is an examination of human impact on ecosystems. Armed with information and understanding, the praxis of Bioregionalism is completed with the implementation of a holistic vision of place-based living and global environmental consciousness. Only then can we begin to restore man’s relationship with nature .

Bioregionalism is a body of thought and related practice that has evolved in response to the challenge of reconnecting socially-just human cultures in a sustainable manner to the region-scale ecosystems in which they are irrevocably embedded. --Doug Aberly, Interpreting Bioregionalism: A story from many voices

…a place or community, linked to nature, and with which residents identify in historical, cultural and material terms… --Ronnie D. Lipschutz, Bioregionalism, civil society and global environmental governance

“…nothing short of total transformation…” --Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize winning poet

“…a decentralized, self-determined mode of social organization; a culture predicated upon biological integrities and acting in respectful accord; and a society which honor and abets the spiritual development of its members.” --Jim Dodge, Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice

Defining Bioregionalism

Bioregionalism is a combination of green romantic and rationalist theories. Romantic Bioregionalism promotes the fundamental reconciliation of a historically adversarial relationship between humans and nature, into a cooperative and consciousness enlightening experience. Rationalistically, Bioregionalism is an environmental management system in which attention is placed on the particular biology of an area. Using the ecological distinction of the geographic zones, bioregions are created based on environmental criteria such as watershed, biotic shift, land form, and even vertical elevation. Proposed bioregions have also included such intangibles as “spirit places” (such as Mt. Shasta or the Red Rocks of Sedona) and the “human” sense of place (you are where you think you are). Humans and their cultures are also seen as part of the natural biological elements of the bioregion, which places humans in a new relative position to nature: Egalitarianism and communitarianism rather than hierarchy and domination. A goal of Bioregionalism is to promote synergy between the cultural, space-place identity of a person’s home territory and the natural ecosystem of that same territory.

Once a bioregion is defined and made tangible in the human belief system, the next step involves the creation of some form of governance. Solutions to this complex issue range from the subtle reorganization of existing administrative systems, to the radical global replacement of current political, economic and social institutions. Ultimately, Bioregionalism involves the interconnection of the resultant web of synergistic, regionally governed home-places, in a promotion of global sharing of experiences and information.

Ecosystem Management

The importance of place in human culture is not restricted to environmental discourse: Place is also an important concept in geography. A “sense of place” is what defines an area on a human cultural scale; it is what makes a place memorable. Socially, it is what makes a geographic location a home, what gives it character. This character is created through cultural influence, physical landscape, and relative location . Bioregionalism can use this established social and geographic paradigm to reach its goal of eliminating human domination over nature. The introduction of the home-place bioregional axiom is an important aspect to the part of Bioregionalism that seeks a cultural harmony with the earth and an altruistic conscience that has transcended the anthropocentricity of industrialism.

Human Destruction of Ecosystems

The deleterious effect of human cultures on ecosystems is well documented and thoroughly debated common knowledge. Environmental destruction is the resultant combination of political, cultural, and social schemes that are themselves dependent upon biologic and geographic systems. Responsibility for global environmental degradation considers a range of relationships between humans and the environment. At one end of the spectrum, man is a parasite to natural systems and laws and thus is the culprit of environmental damages as he drains nature for his own purposes. The opposite archetype considers nature as an adversary to be conquered, and places man’s domination over natural forces as the entity responsible for ecological destruction. In contrast, Bioregionalist philosophies, like the Green Romantic discourses, place man as part of the ecosystem rather than a foreign force that is either a dependent biological entity or an independent master-species. Although the romantic aspects of Bioregionalism may be difficult to achieve, in order for this ideology to prevail as a viable ecosystem management scheme, this change in human belief systems must take place. Changing the thinking of six billion minds seems a daunting task; however, history has shown that global paradigmatic changes can and do occur.

Indigenous Ancestral Generations

During the gestation of Bioregionalism as an ecological discourse during the tumultuously environmental 70s, writers Peter Berg and Gary Snyder called for the rise of “indigenous activist-cultures”. This axiom is rooted in understanding an ecosystem’s physical characteristics and the management techniques used by ancestral and surviving indigenous cultures to successfully sustain their home-places. It requires comprehensive knowledge of ancient cultural traditions, and the problematic ability to adapt these methods and traditions on the modern environmental complexities of ecosystem management. Indigenous activist-cultures believe that the future sustainability of the world lies in the adaptation of these early practices of original inhabitants and their surviving indigenous populations. By using the genetic and environmental management systems that indigenous ancestral generations used, Bioregionalists believe that sustainable ecosystems will emerge that are ecologically unobtrusive .

Governance and Bioregionalism

Kirkpatrick Sale, writing for the Sierra Club’s 1985 publication Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision, claims that politically, Bioregionalism is “connected to anarchist, utopian socialist and regional planning traditions.” Under these traditions, Bioregionalism offers an alternative paradigm of the human relationship to nature based on: 1) division of the earth into natural, nested regions; 2) self-sufficiency within the bioregion; 3) decentralization of governance; and, 4) the integration of urban, rural and wild ecosystems.

Political ideologies of Bioregionalism run from anarchy to a global interconnection of governance. Yet these two seemingly opposite ideologies can be combined into a nested ecosystem governance such as heteronomy. Heteronomy has been proposed as an appropriate Bioregional organizing principle that allows for distinct functional jurisdiction across one or more social, political and ecosystem boundaries.

Bioregionalists encourage identification with the natural ecosystem that is an individuals home-place, rather than any ethnic or national identification. The rationalist aspect of Bioregionalism sees the discourse as a political program concerned with economic and governing institutions. Here, Bioregionalism would attempt to reconcile these political, cultural and economic boundaries to better fit the ecosystems in which people live. This is not a new idea: According to John Dryzek, some administrative agencies have considered redefining their jurisdictions according to bioregions instead of state or county borders. At this level, Bioregionalism is not necessarily radical; however, Bioregional radical elements would go beyond the reorganization of field offices to the replacement of current government with administrative, legislative, executive and judicial institutions defined by bioregions. In this aspect, Bioregionalism is the epitome of ecosystem management. The ecosystem becomes an all-important aspect of human life -- politically, culturally and socially defining who we are and where we are.

In his article, Bioregionalism, civil society and global environmental governance, Ronnie D. Lipschutz deliberates the issue of ecosystem governance. His answer to the poor fit between governmental jurisdictions and natural bounds is the world wide incorporation of Bioregionalism. This process could take place through a nested system of governance and regional jurisdiction, in which networks overlap into social, political, economic, and physical places .

A Brave New Bioregional World

Author Jim Dodge’s forceful commentary on bioregional government borders the Lockian philosophy of a duty to revolt. After a stinging list of American political and social foibles, Dodges writes, “It seems almost a social obligation to explore alternatives.” As frightening as radical philosophies and social revolutionaries may seem, the ends of the Bioregionalist vision are harmonic, peaceful, and inclusive.

Bioregionalists envision a world where technology is unobtrusive and ecosystems are managed in a cooperative effort with nature. The world is restored to a natural condition and re-inhabited by a new human consciousness. The world carries a “healthy and spare population of all races, much less in number than today.” Government in Bioregionalism is democratic and participatory. Economically, the Bioregional world seeks to achieve a cooperative self-sufficiency, with locally manufactured and maintained technology.

Bioregionalism is a radical ecological discourse. It calls for fundamental changes in the political and social institutions of the world. It also calls for a deep paradigmatic realignment with nature. The whole “plot” of the story of mankind, is based on an adversarial relationship with nature. Domination of nature is the ruler by which we measure our success as humans. Human culture has romanticized this philosophy since the beginning of recorded history. As the second millennium comes to a close, this logic from which we have created an entire civilization is called into question – or even more drastically, is touted as an erroneous belief.


Aberly, Doug. Interpreting bioregionalism: A story from many voices. rpt by rpt. by D. Schlosberg for NAU. (1999)

Dodge, Jim (1981) Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice. rpt. by John Dryzek and David Schlosberg (eds.) (1998) Debating the Earth: The Environmental Politics Reader. New York: Oxford Press.

Dryzek, John S. (1997) Saving the world through new politics: Green Rationalism. The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. New York: Oxford Press.

____________. (1997). Saving the world through new consciousness: Green Romanticism. The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. New York: Oxford Press.

Lew, Alan (1999) Geography: Place and Space. Geography USA. Coursewise: Madison, WI.

Lipschutz, Ronnie D. Bioregionalism, civil society and global environmental governance. rpt. by D. Schlosberg for NAU. (1999)

McGinnis, Michael. (1999) Bioregionalism is about place-based living and thinking. Author critique of Bioregionalism. accessed 11/2/99.
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