Core Principles of Bioregionalism



All life is sacred, water dependent, and has a right to its place on this planet.  Watersheds divide the world into bioregions, each with its own life giving rivers, lakes and streams. As all living things within a bioregion relies on the same source of life, these natural boundaries represent our planet’s true borders. These borders are not static, rather they continually evolve, shift and change. Bioregionalism values the interdependence watersheds create, and recognizes all life raises or falls together within them.    


Colonialism senselessly carved up the earth with erroneous geopolitical borders, most often proving divisive, exploitative and disruptive to nature's way. Alongside nature’s borders, Bioregionalism also respects indigenous ways of being, as they have evolved with each bioregion for thousands of years, and work with a way of living harmoniously with the earth. While there is no return to a pre-colonial past, our thriving future must learn from the sustainable models pre-existent in each bioregion.   


Earth abounds with diverse life, abundant resources and a balanced way of being within each bioregion, and with each other. Encouraging sustainable practices in farming, construction, industry and technology that are responsible, ethical and sustainable, and that shift away from a global supply chain model of reaping rewards in one bioregion by raping the resources of another, and shifts to a life where the resource used to live are the ones you live around, or are traded in a equitable, responsibly sourced manner. The symbiotic relationship living bioregionally engenders allows all life to thrive as synergies not energies are exploited.  

4. Diverse

Just as biodiversity adds value in nature, diversity in society benefits humans. Each bioregion is different, with different offerings and needs, and each community is different, with different specialties and needs based on those environments and backgrounds. Each community will be the best suited to speak for itself and its own needs, and this diversity is the greatest strength of bioregionism, which relies on building mutual and collaborative networks that thrive on this biological and cultural diversity. Just as in nature, as we face the challenges of a changing planet, diverse perspectives and ideas increase the likelihood of successful outcomes. The bountiful life Bioregionalism offers begins as we stop allowing differences to divide us, and harness their strength to unite us.


Every living thing is an equal stakeholder in the survival of our planet, yet equity rarely exists in the way we live on it. Bioregionalism focuses on creating equitable communities where a local focus supports an integrated economy that benefits all humans where they live, work and learn. When a bioregion's domestic resources are unable to address the needs of its people , engaging in a global trade which maintains these core principles  ensures that the value of global life rises in concert.

Why Bioregionalism

To understand Cascadia a bit better, it helps to learn not just what bioregionalism or our theory of change is, but why we talk about bioregionalism as our model for change.

At it’s root – bioregionalism argues that watersheds better represent the geography, people and physical realities of a region, and that culture stems from place – through shared values, and common concerns, rather than arbitrary lines on the map. It seeks to replace both nationalism, and capitalism, with a shift to a more watershed based, community first approach, with the argument that the people living in a place are the best able to handle issues in that area, and that only examining the whole watershed, and using our bioregions as frameworks, can we begin to address fundamental and systemic issues facing our communities and planet. 

Bioregionalism emerged as an idea in the 1970’s from notables like Kirk Patrick Sales, as well as Peter Berg and the Planet Drum Foundation. The term Cascadia was first used by geologist Bates McKee in his book Cascadia: A Geologic Evolution of the Northwest, but was used first, in it’s full current definition as a North American bioregion by Seattle University professor David McCloskey. It was quickly embraced by authors, poets and academics like Gary Snyder, Carolyn Estes, and given vision through books like Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia or Joel Garraeux’s Nine Nations of North America giving voice to the different cultures and people’s that helped define distinct regions of the continent. Through the 1980’s, the the concept moved northward where it was embraced by a rapidly growing Cascadia Bioregional movement, that first met in 1986 at Evergreen State College for their first ever Cascadia Bioregional Congress, which drew more than a hundred individuals, and continued annually after that into the 90’s. 

This theory of bioregionalism incorporates several different fundamental principles. 

  • The world is made up of bioregions, and represent a return to a more natural approach to regional organizing and thinking. Bioregions exist right here, right now and will exist into the future, well after people have disappeared. They are defined through geography, environment, geology, topology, and from that – distinct social, cultural and economic regions, the largest space where connections make sense.

  • Bioregions are a framework for change, and are the connection between global and local. Because of shared resources and interdependence, watersheds and bioregions are often the most efficient form or planning and organizing, and serve as an intermediary that lets us break down large scale, global and intangible issues to a local level, at a scale where real impact can be achieved by each of us. By breaking issues down to a local level, we can connect people with those already working to make a difference, and by shifting our impacts locally, it also mean more of us can have a direct say in this supply chain, and can more easily hold businesses, organizations and governments accountable, impacting greater change. Bioregionalism says that change starts at home, and that each of us can be that difference. Bioregionalism also says, it’s the watershed silly! Take whatever group, issue or cause you are working with, and think about the issues using a watershed model. For example if a group is working only in Washington state, then you will miss all of your natural allies only a few hours away North, East and South.

  • A bioregional movement is a gateway movement, and serve to educate about issues important in their region, get people excited and passionate about being involved, and to help root people in place. Once excited, social movement organizations can help connect people’s passions with the organizations and community change makers already making those changes happen. They are place based hubs, and will only ever exist in the watersheds they function in, and rather than expand outside of it, will work to build partnerships and mutually beneficial relationships with other movements in other areas, who’s problems and issues will be distinct and specific to each area and community.

  • Culture Stems from Place, and arises from having shared principles and concerns that come from living in the same place as your neighbors, and others who share your passions. ‘Bio-Region’ is simply short for Bio-Cultural Region – highlighting both the diversity of the place, and the people who live there. Together, we have shared principles and values, common concerns, and all want a better life for our family, friends, and neighbors – and to protect the things we find special. Many of these traits stem from sharing a land-base together. We grow the same crops, deal with the weather patterns and climate. If there is a wildfire east of the Cascades, that affects all of us. If there is a drought impacting our region, again that affects each of us. One of the core principles of bioregionalism is that those directly affected by those issues are the best able to represent the needs of their community, and to find pathways forward, rather than by representatives often thousands of miles away, with little vested interest in that region.

  • A regional Identity rooted in a love of place, that shift us away from the negative associations of American or Canadian, and towards a new culture in which we get to embody the principles we want to see for a society. A bioregional movement works to create a regional identity that is positive, inclusive, and grounded in the principles we want to promote into the world. We talk about this as a social and cultural movement because culture is the sum total of our interpersonal interactions, and by shifting our behaviors, each of us can have an impact about the issues we care about right here, right now, without waiting for others to do it for us. Culture means food, drink, our music, sports & recreation, and the issues we choose to be active about. To create real and lasting change in this region, and be the rapid change our world needs, – that means that we need to reach out and connect with each one of the 15 million people living in this region, have that be a positive interaction, and shift their habits, spreading it on to their friends and family.

  • Bioregionalism seeks to move us away from boundaries that are toxic, negative and arbitrary lines on a map, and instead to boundaries which are fluid and dynamic, that better represent the physical and cultural realities of an area. By thinking within terms of an entire watershed – we are better equipped to deal with issues upstream, and how our own impacts flow downstream. Just because there is an international border between the United States and Canada, doesn’t mean that Seattle and Vancouver don’t share the same watershed, and that our actions don’t impact each other. If Vancouver is polluting into their waterway, or Seattle is, it affects us both equally. If there is an earthquake – it affects all of us, and we need to be able to effectively communicate and work together to solve those problems. The renaming of the Puget Sound in Washington, and the Prince Georgia Straight in British Columbia in 2012 to the Salish Sea – as a reflection of the entire watershed, is one of the best examples of bioregional principles being incorporated by regional tribes, policy planners, academics and community groups. Bioregionalism seeks to break down those types of national and state borders to a watershed level, able to empower communities to better work with each other.

  • Bioregionalism challenges us to envision what is truly sustainable, autonomous, resilient or independent. If we ever want to talk about true sustainability or independence, than that conversation also must include the entire watershed. If we ever want to have a discussion about salmon habitat recovery, un-damming the Columbia, Hanford Reservation or pollution – that conversation must necessarily include all states and provinces that share that river. If we ever want to talk about food sovereignty, that conversation can never only include western Washington or Oregon, but must necessarily include both sides of the mountains.

  • Building the models we want to see in the world, not waiting for others to do it for us. While bioregionalism helps us provide a framework for creating a bioregion that is sustainable, autonomous, resilient and independent, it argues for a model which is much more holistic than just a political movement. Some say if the Northwest were to break off tomorrow, we’d be better off. While this might be technically true, many of the root causes for the problems we discuss, and their effects – environmental degradation, poverty, gentrification, lack of access to key services and many others – would all still be here. Bioregionalism challenges us to build the models that we want to see in the world. By moving away from national politics, which can be incredibly dis-empowering, or disenfranchising – we instead seek to empower people in their communities locally, right here right now, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for us, or sending people to a voting box every four years. Every community will have their own needs, and best be able to represent that, and know the best approaches to solving issues in those communities. Together, we are working to create a bioregional movement that is a place based hub that allows for every group to represent those issues, have the services and tools they need, find solidarity and support, and maximize their impact.

  • Bioregionalism can provide an alternative pathway to addressing systemic injustices, of which we all live in and are a part of. Our Theory of Change helps provide us a pathway towards these activities. Because of this, and the ways that power and oppression can exist and manifest within the institutions we often rely on, bioregionalism can become a model for real and systemic change in which true reconciliation can be possible.