By David Seibert
The word economy emerges from French and Latin and references “management of the house.” This type of inquiry helps us ask a critical question: How might we best form decisions and take action in the house in which we live? Not coincidentally, and vital to BRLI work, are its parallels with the term ecology, literally “logic of the house.” How exactly are the parts of our house arranged, how do they function, and what parts are at shared risk to the inhabitants?
In order to begin to answer such questions, BRLI works to explore and activate restoration ecologies at fundamental scales, even prior to consideration of the term’s monetary aspects. For the entirety of human history (and in the opinions of many researchers, the primary reason that humans still exist at all), an economy has functioned as a system of exchange, no matter the ideas or objects exchanged. And systems of exchange depend strongly upon relationships so that they may continue—patterns of expectation, responsibility (the ability to respond), and obligation. This is as true for systems in which people pay for services according to agreement, as it is for hummingbirds that somehow coordinate their northward migrations with sequences of blooming plants that they need for food, and that in turn “require” the birds’ pollination services in order to set seed and reproduce.
A brief example will help illustrate the human side of the potentials within systems of exchange and relationship, of restoration economies, that are deliberately treated and nurtured as such. A typical landscaper with tools and a vehicle might or might not be considered part of a restoration economy. Certainly there are clients, work done on the ground to facilitate the flow of water, reduce weeds, and improve safety for the client’s house, all within the “house” of the earth. This person might participate in a system of relationships with clients and other practitioners, all restoring function to the landscape and fulfilling the client’s desires. But what about the owner of the local gas station? This person might be considered far outside a restoration economy because he provides thus-far unsustainable fuel that pollutes ecosystems. Or, he might be considered part of such an economy because he provides fuel for the landscaper’s truck, enabling him to complete valuable work although it’s expensive and supplies are sporadic in this scenario.
By considering both deliberation of effort and intention within the system of exchanges and relationships, however, we can strengthen the concept and its effective application. What if the landscaper’s day looked something more like this: After a full day of building water-harvesting structures and planting native plants to support pollinators on a degraded landscape—work which has been designed as part of a complementary system of exchange and relation, one that incorporates the worker’s need for monetary income as part of the larger system—the truck owner deliberately and with full intention chooses to fill up his gas tank at the local, expensive gas station with an unpredictable supply. Why? Because it has been agreed that tending the larger system and its human, non-human, and even abiotic parts in tandem might just create greater resilience for the whole.
Perhaps, with this form of relationship in place, the station owner increases his supplies of fuel because he knows that the worker needs it and will buy it (due to the increased predictability within the system afforded by an active restoration project that requires trucks and people working), and the worker agrees to pay higher prices in order to avoid long drives to other places, but also to keep one of his community members intact as part of the larger system--but also because the restoration economy has provided a platform for people to rethink not only how they relate to places and how to make a living by caring for them, but how they relate to and depend upon one another for many kinds of support at the same time.
By Oliver Lysaght, Laura M. Norman, Richard Pritzlaff, David Seibert, and H. Ron Pulliam
(ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Darius Semmens, Ken Bagstad, Kelly Mott-LaCroix, Dave Ellis...)
Abstract: The Sonoita Creek Watershed is bound by the Patagonia and Santa Rita Mountains, where surface water flows westerly, eventually draining into the Santa Cruz River. Over 1000 people live, work, and play in the Sonoita Creek watershed, all with varying opinions about what is important to them. Ecosystem services, including those associated with healthy, biologically diverse natural habitats such as forests, urban green spaces, wetlands, grasslands, and rivers, provide natural benefits to people in a variety of forms. In order to better understand how people value ecological restoration and a restoration economy, we have developed a survey which is currently being disseminated and which seeks to gain insight into the values residents of the Sonoita Creek Watershed place on provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services. Surveyed topics include: residents’ economic relationship to water; attitudes towards, and participation in, activities in the Sonoita Creek watershed; familiarity with terminology; preferences for resource management; and a spatially-explicit identification of where cultural values arise within the jurisdiction. Our end goal is to develop input for a regional decision-making tool called, “Social Values for Ecosystem Services” (SolVES), which uses GIS to assess, map, and quantify the social values assigned by stakeholders to ecosystem services. Insights from this survey will guide watershed management in the Sonoita Creek Watershed and strengthen restoration efforts via community participation.
By Gary Paul Nabhan
The grassroots ecological restoration movement---not the habitat mitigation engineering profession---has shifted the paradigm in the American Conservation Movement from one of “lock-it-up protectionism” to joyous hands-on participation in the restorative processes of natural, self-renewing communities. We do not feel the isolation of the bitter and lonely environmentalists of the past; we feel that sensuous satisfactions of getting our hands in the dirt to plant trees or sow seeds, to re-meander streams or harvest rainwater off slopes. We are co-creators with Nature, that is, with the Creative Spirit of the universe---not passive victims or fatalistic bystanders anymore. “Each time we plant a seed, we plant ourselves in place.” Brother Coyote, OEF
As ‘homo-narrans’, we humans shape the world around us through the stories we tell. While it is difficult not to succumb to pessimism when reading and watching much of contemporary media, a list of projects and organizations acting to better the world – as provided by David Bornstein in his round-up of solutions featured in the NY Times – tells a story of optimism.
Bornstein reminds us that “for every problem we see reported in the news, there are almost always people responding — and some are doing pretty smart things.” The work of Borderlands Restoration (as neatly summarized by Alexis Marie Adams in Scientific American last month) has been proffered in his round-up as an example of a group whose response to local environmental, social and economic challenges gives grounds for optimism regarding humankind’s capacity for positive change.
Extract: “In ‘Restoration Economy’ Strives to Protect Pollinators, Create Jobs, Alexis Marie Adams, reporting in Scientific American, traces the work of Borderlands Restoration, a social enterprise that works along the Arizona-Mexico border to restore the habitat for hundreds of species of wild pollinators like native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and nectar-feeding bats.
Urbanization, chemically intensive mono-crop farming and an increasingly hot and dry climate conspire to destroy the biodiversity upon which wild pollinators depend. In turn, much of the ecosystem’s — and society’s — health depends on them. “The loss of wild pollinators may pose an even more alarming threat to food crops than the loss of honeybees,” Adams wrote. In this low-income region, the company trains and employs locals and provides internships to youth who learn to map area “nectar landscapes,” collect seeds, control erosion, restore plants, and create nesting sites and pollinator gardens.”
Click here to read the NY Times Article
Borderlands Restoration was featured in no less than Scientific American. With interviews from two of Borderlands’ founders — Gary P. Nabhan and Ronald Pulliam, our Executive Director David Seibert, restoration practitioner Zach Yourgules, the National Park Service’s Steve Buckley, USGS’s Laura Norman and Borderlands Earth Care Youth students, Alexis Marie Adams provides a whistle-stop tour of Southern Arizona’s burgeoning restoration economy.
By oscillating between, on one hand, Borderlands mission— restoring physical environments, food chains and reconnecting people to the landscapes they live within — and restoration being carried out on the ground on the other, Adams’ article eloquently affirms that through dogged determination, a strategic approach, and plentiful collaboration, a restoration economy is being made into a reality in the Arizona/Sonora Borderlands to the benefit of people and nature alike.
To find out how this is being done and to read the full article, click HERE