views updated May 11 2018


BIOREGIONALISM, as much a movement as a philosophy, is a North American response to the modern environmental crisis. The term comes from the Greek root bio (life) and the Latin regio (place). As a philosophy, bioregionalism refers to the fullness of all earthly life existing in mutuality and synergy. Regions are defined not by legislation, with dotted lines and borders, but by nature, with a commonality of climate, geology, hydrology, species, and earth forms. Islands and deserts are defined as bioregions. Usually, however, the term applies to a watershed, an area defined by a network of runoffs into a central river that forms a kind of organizing spine. It is along such spines that all natural species, including humans, have situated themselves. Bioregionalism posits that human societies must learn to honor these networks if they are to be ecologically sound. The philosophy also argues that nations, empires, and large political economies of any kind are antiecological, claiming that the bigger they are, the more threatening to nature they become. It is only at the natural scale of the bioregion that people can learn the complete systems and species of nature and thus know how to satisfy their basic needs and create social institutions that do not do violence to that ecosystem.

As a movement, bioregionalism began in the late 1970s in the San Francisco Bay Area and slowly spread through the West and into the Ozarks, Appalachia, and the Hudson River area. The first continent-wide gathering was held in the tall-grass prairie near Kansas City in 1984. Since then, congresses have been held at sites from the Squamish bioregion of British Columbia to the Gulf of Maine bioregion on the Atlantic. Over the years these meetings have established a bioregional "platform," with position papers on subjects ranging from agriculture and forestry to art, economics, and community. By 1994 there were more than one hundred active bioregional groups throughout North America, or what bioregionalists call (following Native American tradition) Turtle Island. Movements have also taken root in Europe and Australia. In the United States, bioregionalism groups do local ecological work, especially restoration and environmental education. Other groups concentrate on forming networks and "green pages," environmentally focused directories, within their regions, often with newsletters and magazines. Other bioregionalist groups work to link like-minded organizations into alliances on specific issues, such as water conservation, organic farming, and tree planting. Movements within the larger bioregionalism movement focus on practices such as permaculture (short for permanent agriculture) and asset-based community development, which are attempts to make communities more self-sufficient by mapping and utilizing local assets. Communities were mapping such local assets through the late 1990s. Other concerns include bioremediation, which aims to clean up polluted land, water, and air using organic means.


McGinnis, Michael Vincent, ed. Bioregionalism. New York: Rout-ledge, 1999.

Plant, Christopher, and Judith Plant. Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future. Philadelphia: New Society, 1990.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.

KirkpatrickSale/h. s.

See alsoConservation ; Organic Farming .


views updated May 09 2018


Drawing heavily upon the cultures of indigenous peoples , bioregionalism is a philosophy of living that stresses harmony with nature and the integration of humans as part of the natural ecosystem . The keys to bioregionalism involve learning to live off the land, without damaging the environment or relying on heavy industrial machines or products. Bioregionalists believe that if the relationship between nature and humans improves, the society as a whole will benefit.

Environmentalists who practice this philosophy "claim" a bioregion or area. For example, one's place might be a watershed , a small mountain range, a particular area of the coast, or a specific desert . To develop a connection to the land and a sense of place , bioregionalists try to understand the natural history of the area as well as how it supports human life. For example, they study the plants and animals that inhabit the region, the geological features of the land, as well as the cultures of the people who live or have lived in the area.

Bioregionalism also stresses community life where participation, self-determination, and local control play important roles in protecting the environment. Various bioregional groups exist throughout the United States, ranging from the Gulf of Maine to the Ozark Mountains to the San Francisco Bay area. A North American Bioregional Congress loosely coordinates the bioregional movement.

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Andruss, V., et al. Home! A Bioregional Reader. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1990.

Sale, K. Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.

Snyder, G. The Practice of the Wild. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990.