Bioregionalism: Coming home to place, connection, and mutuality

Humanity faces a deepening polycrisis marked by ecological collapse, political polarization, and institutional coordination failures. While the developed world responds to the symptoms of this “new normal” – extreme weather, megafires, megadroughts, rising poverty, fraying infrastructure – a deeper analysis is crucial for uncovering and addressing the root causes. This three-part series explores foundational questions: How did we reach this point? Where do we aspire to go? How can we navigate there? 

I share these posts as background and inspiration for exploring the potential of The Bay Delta Trust, a new initiative for bioregional weaving and coordination.

We are living through an existential ecological crisis that represents a critical juncture for humanity in the first half of the 21st century. This multifaceted challenge stems from unsustainable human activities and their cumulative negative impact on the planet’s ecosystems – biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, resource depletion, groundwater depletion, megafires. These trends pose profound threats to the stability of our environment and the well-being of current and future generations. 

Addressing this ecological crisis requires coordinated efforts on a global scale. However, humanity faces a coordination problem underscored by the inherent and exacerbating difficulty in aligning diverse interests, political wills, and economic systems to address shared challenges. Our current institutions seem ill-equipped to contextualize, let alone craft effective  and timely solutions to the unfolding and quickening crisis of crises, or “polycrisis.” I believe this coordination problem necessitates transcending outdated geopolitical boundaries and fostering collaborative approaches that account for the interdependence of ecological systems. 

In the face of these dual challenges of ecological crisis and coordination failure, it is imperative that we explore new models of coordination grounded in both post-colonial, post-partisan values and ecological realities. Addressing the paradigmatic roots of the polycrisis creates the potential for profound social, political and cultural transformation. 

Enter bioregionalism: an alternative framework for governance, culture and economy that, if embraced, could potentially supplant our current, insufficient institutions. This blog post will introduce the concept of bioregionalism, and explore how it could enhance governance and coordination in the face of ecological crisis. If we are willing, we may also co-create a new story of humanity and our relationship to more-than-human life that is healing, joyful, and truly transformative. 

Understanding Bioregionalism

At its core, bioregionalism is a philosophy that empowers improved coordination to address the polycrisis in ways that are hopeful, sustainable, democratic, and grounded in place, culture and ecology. It challenges the notion that political boundaries should be drawn solely along lines that ignore the intricate ecological tapestry of our planet. Instead, bioregionalism calls for the recognition of natural boundaries and ecosystems, along with human culture and inhabitation patterns, as the foundation for governance and economy. In doing so, bioregionalism encourages the developed world to reevaluate the way we organize ourselves and relate to each other and our place.

So what is a bioregion? In a strict scientific sense, a bioregion is a geographical area characterized by a unique combination of environmental, ecological, and climatic factors that distinguish it from surrounding regions. These factors include the types of ecosystems, flora and fauna, climate patterns, and geological features found within the region. There is also a biocultural approach to defining bioregions that also considers human activity in a place, such as culture, economy, foodsheds, and settlement patterns. Ultimately, bioregions reflect natural boundaries, such as watersheds, mountain ranges, or ecological zones, rather than abstract political borders. The concept of bioregion emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life in a place, and promotes the idea that human communities should adapt their lifestyles and practices to align with the specific ecological characteristics of their bioregion.

Bioregionalism, then, is a framework that emphasizes the importance of natural boundaries and ecosystems in shaping culture, governance, and economy. It encourages us to rethink political boundaries and economic power structures to align with ecological realities. Organizing communities based on the unique ecological and socio-cultural characteristics and resources of their bioregions means acknowledging the diverse needs and challenges faced by different places and developing tailored approaches. By doing so, bioregionalism aims to foster a profound connection between people and their environment, nurturing a society and culture that thrives in harmony with nature. Moreover, bioregionalism can play a pivotal role in supporting local living economies, promoting sustainable practices that enhance community well-being and economic resilience.

A Positive Approach for Our Times

Bioregionalism is emerging as a clarion call within a hopeful movement of place-based, regenerative approaches, many inspired by lifeways practiced for millennia by local Indigenous cultures. Sometimes referred to as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), these practices offer a promising pathway towards ecological restoration, resilience, right relations with land, and cultural healing and reconciliation. These efforts demonstrate the transformative possibility when communities harness their unique capacities and understanding of local ecosystems to improve quality of life for all, while also addressing broader environmental challenges.

In the context of the polycrisis, bioregionalism offers a fresh perspective focussed on local ecological integrity to improve quality of life for all. It addresses the critical issue of coordination by aligning governance structures with ecological realities. Forest fires and drought know no borders, and addressing these issues effectively demands collaborative efforts that transcend local, state and national boundaries. Bioregionalism creates a path for improved regional coordination and global cooperation, enabling communities to pool their resources and expertise to deploy nature-based solutions on a grand scale while addressing the unique challenges of their bioregions.

Moreover, bioregionalism counters the myopic, reactive tendencies of our current institutions. Despite good intentions (which is not always a given), politicians and government agencies are often driven by electoral cycles, internal fiefdoms and immediate economic concerns. This short-term decision-making approach hampers long-term planning and ongoing implementation and evaluation of policies and programs necessary for societal transformation. We need institutions that can transcend electoral pressures and prioritize the long-term well-being of the planet. 

In the second post of this series, I wrote about humanity’s need for positive visions of our long term future, grounded in rigorous strategic foresight and planning processes. Because it is  explicitly place-based, I am optimistic about bioregionalism’s potential as a powerful container for this type of long term thinking and doing. In my work with local governments, I have long observed that issues of “home,” be it a street, a neighborhood, or a town, are some of the most important and motivating for individuals. If we focus on quality of life within a bioregion–clean food, safe water, access to open space, economic opportunity–we are talking about something of interest to most folks. 

Of course, the primacy of local issues means that heightened passion can result in deepened conflict. Anchoring decision-making in long term ecological considerations encourages a shift away from short term thinking. I am particularly interested in 100-vear visions, a timeframe which places us past the end of our individual lives, into a future inhabited and run by our children, grandchildren and, possibly, great-grandchildren. This extended timeframe can foster a sense of collective identity, enabling communities to prioritize sustainable development, guide more rational decision-making, attract long-term investments, and empower future generations with a legacy of thoughtful and responsible planning. Bioregionalism can help us hold these longer term visions, and help us remember and acknowledge the overarching alignment in our basic human needs, rather than over-emphasize the differences in tactics we choose to meet those needs. 

Reconciling the shadow of the developed world

Critically, bioregionalism provides a real opportunity to address the historical injustices inherent in our current systems that prevent sustained, long term transformational change. In the first post of this series, I wrote about the great pain and suffering caused by our perceived separation of humanity from the rest of nature. I believe that this story is at the root of most of the challenges we face today, individually, interpersonally, and systemically. By embracing the principles of bioregionalism, it is possible for the developed world to begin the process of healing the wounds we have inflicted upon human and more-than-human life on planet Earth.

For all the good our economic and government institutions have done, the foundation of their power is rooted in a dark history of colonization, characterized by land theft, resource exploitation, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. Here it is useful to apply Jung’s notion of the shadow–”the self’s emotional blind spot, or the unconscious aspect of the personality that does not correspond with the ego ideal”–to society at large. I believe the developed world’s shadow has informed the extractive and exploitative nature of capitalism, leading us to an unsustainable paradigm that our institutions struggle to confront comprehensively, equitably, and holistically. 

The acknowledgment of past injustices is a crucial step toward building a more equitable society and lifting humanity out of the significant shadow of the developed world. By recognizing and centering the ecological wisdom and leadership of Indigenous peoples, and respecting the land rights and knowledge of marginalized communities, bioregionalism can seek to redress the wrongs of our current system.

Bioregionalism today

The concept of bioregionalism emerged from the Deep Ecology movement of the 1970s, carrying the hopes and dreams of fostering ecological awareness, sustainable living, and a profound connection between communities and their unique natural environments. In the closing decades of the 20th century, a small, passionate group of ecologists, community organizers and “back to the land” proponents organized nearly a dozen Continental Bioregional Congresses across the United States, as well as a series of five Shasta Bioregion Congresses in Northern California. Unfortunately, few if any, institutional artifacts remain from these efforts.

However, a new crop of new bioregional efforts have emerged. Some examples include:

  • Salmon Nation is an effort gestated by EcoTrust intended to organize a nature state – a big, diverse, powerful and holistic integration of people and place, with thriving local communities living in deep relationship with the lands and waters that nourish all of us.
  • Regenerate Cascadia is a social movement organization developing a long-term bioregional vision and framework for the regeneration and health of the Cascadia bioregion along the northeast Pacific rim of North America and beyond.
  • The Collaborative for Bioregional Action Learning & Transformation (COBALT) is a learning network that gathers a diverse set of fellows from across North America, South America and Europe. Based out of the Casco Bay bioregion in Maine, this group is also affiliated with Team Zostera, an muti-disciplinary eelgrass restoration effort. 

What could bioregionalism look like in our place? 

I have begun exploring the potential for a new weaving and convening initiative, The Bay Delta Trust, grounded in bioregionalism, that offers a playground for the best ideas and actions to welcome a just, beautiful future in our home. Such a Trust would provide crucial services for all life in the bioregion:

  • Engage diverse voices to establish a forum for long-term visioning of positive futures for the Bay Delta.
  • Augment the planning and coordination of local and regional governments, nonprofits and community groups.
  • Raise funds and develop new economic models to support critical projects that fill existing gaps.
  • Joyfully explore new approaches to improve regenerative practices, community resilience, economic prosperity, and collective self-determination.

While there are many ways to define bioregional boundaries, the Bay Delta as a bioregion has historical precedents in regional and state planning. In 1991, California counties ratified the Coordinated Regional Strategy to Conserve Biological Diversity in which they agreed to adopt an adaptive approach in the development of bioregional strategies, and to establish Bioregional Councils. An initial map of California bioregions was drafted (below), with the intention of further defining boundaries with local stakeholders.

The word “trust” has two primary contexts, that of finance, and that of relationship. I use “trust” to represent both meanings, with a primary emphasis on relational trust. With extreme political polarization and flagging support of public institutions, reestablishing trust amongst citizens and with institutions has never been more important. When properly honored and engaged, a plurality of perspectives is a strength, not a weakness. On this front, the Bay Delta is abundant. The human partners here comprise a wonderful diversity of demographics, ethnicities, wordviews, interests and skill sets. Crucially, this Trust will also embrace the bioregion itself – the watersheds, along with the flora, fauna, and fungi living within – as a key partner and beneficiary.

Relationships are critical to the success of any collective impact effort. As such, much time and effort must be invested to assess and engage the right set of allies and partners. Initial groups include, but are not limited to:

  • Watersheds flowing into and out of the Bay Delta bioregion
  • The flora, fauna, fungi, and all more-than-human life of the Bay Delta bioregion
  • Human inhabitants of the bioregion, including Indigenous communities historically living in the bioregion, residents and those who work in the bioregion.
    • Current residents
    • Regenerative/resilience/adaptation/conservation professionals working towards the bioregional vision
    • Work but not live in the bioregion
  • Political, economic and social/cultural institutions of the bioregion, including:
    • Informal community groups and citizen associations
    • Local and regional nonprofits contributing to the bioregional vision
    • Public agencies with decision-making authority in the bioregion (local, county, regional, state)
    • Local businesses and chambers of commerce whose future is linked to the health of this bioregion
    • Academic organizations doing relevant research
  • The bioregional stewardship team, including:
    • Core organizers, volunteers, advisors
    • Funders, for both philanthropic and venture financing

For a new convening and coordinating entity to have legitimacy, the development process must be open, transparent and radically inclusive of all human stakeholders, across dimensions such as political perspectives, race and culture, age and gender. The process must be one of “co-design,” or participatory design, in which community members are equal collaborators in the design process. In fact, the process itself is an outcome that should be shaped by participation.

Initial programs of such a trust would include convening an inaugural “Bay Delta Congress” to gather stakeholders and begin the collective journey to reinhabiting our place together. A key element of this convening would be a long-term visioning process to develop a comprehensive, achievable, and hopeful 100-Year Bioregional Vision, along with backcasting of critical near-term and mid-term actions to achieve this vision. I believe that establishing a 100-year vision for our bioregion, grounded in an appreciation of at least the past 100 years, is a necessary and powerful step towards operationalizing a positive future for all life. 

Many of the current regional plans developed by governing bodies operate on much shorter timeframes, such as 5 or 10 years. Some of the longest range plans (climate action, transportation, etc.) focus on 2050, a mere 26 years from now. Planning timeframes that occur within the lifespan of most participants create opportunities for self-interest and perceived scarcity to compete with maximizing public benefit.

As this work gains traction, I envision establishing a portfolio of bioregional financing facilities to support or create projects critical to achieving the 100-Year Bioregional Vision. Such projects could include ecosystem and hydrological restoration, climate adaptation and resilience, forest health and fire management, workforce development, import substitution with local, regenerative food,  support for the Indigenous land back movement, ecoliteracy programs, and more. 

I am very excited and humbled that this idea has already resonated and found deep support amongst some initial partners and collaborators here in the Bay Delta. I have also accepted fiscal sponsorship for The Bay Delta Trust with The Buckminster Fuller Institute, which will be a project of their Design Labs in 2024. I am also working closely with Finance for Gaia on shaping this idea as we prepare to fundraise a seed round. Please be in touch if this idea speaks to you, too!


Our current social and government institutions are faltering under the staggering weight of the polycrisis. The urgency of our situation demands action, and bioregionalism is a framework that is being embraced right now, across the globe. 

By redefining our political boundaries to reflect biocultural realities, foster improved coordination, and prioritize long-term sustainability, bioregionalism offers a promising path forward. Moreover, it holds the potential to rectify the historical injustices that have plagued our society for centuries. Embracing bioregionalism may well be the transformative step needed to navigate the complex landscape of the polycrisis and create a more harmonious, resilient, just, and joyful human society for all.

This is an invitation to join a new conversation about our future together in this place. The Bay Delta Trust is a journey spanning generations, grounded in action today to transform how humans relate to the planet and to each other. It is the seed of an audacious vision of a positive future where the world works for all life. As such, the only time to start is now.

Thank you for reading! If any of this resonates, or if you have some quibbles to share, I would love to hear from you.