This month Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute launched its inaugural Institute Forum, an open community meeting for sharing ideas, creativity, and vision towards advancing the creation of a restoration economy in the bi-national Borderlands. The forum is open to all community members, visitors, and practitioners alike with the aim of advancing the mission, vision, and principles of the institute, exploring possibilities for creative collaborations, community-based partnerships, and as a way for community members to inspire, shape, and participate in the great work happening across the region.
Held up at the Institute offices at Old Main, the first Forum brought together a diverse group of people including institute members and community members from the Patagonia area, Nogales, other border towns in Mexico, and around the United States and Canada. It was a much needed chance for those who gathered to celebrate the formal launching of the Institute Forum, reflect upon successes to date, and explore ways to advance the field-based work of the institute.
The meeting began by Joshua Cubista, Interim Institute Director, providing an overview of the development of the institute thus far, including the recent launch of the first Ecological Restoration & Applied Restoration Economy Field School. Ron Pulliam, BRLI Board Member and Institute Sr.Fellow, then provided a visionary talk on the aims of a restoration economy, followed by dynamic and engaging small group discussions focused upon a variety of questions to help shape future forum meetings, advance projects and programs across the region, and explore key elements of the vision of a restoration economy in action.
An unavoidable reality of the Borderlands, a wall spanning 700 miles of the US-Mexico border and costing an average of $16 million USD per mile. Its primary objectives - inhibiting terrorism, drug trafficking, and human migration, but its collateral impacts have been are the devastation of wildlife, families, and the land.
Driving from Nogales to Janos, we looked at the North with Southern eyes and enjoyed honest discussions with our counterparts. We learned about the challenges of conservation work in Mexico - a lack of funding, law enforcement, a depressed (eco)-tourism industry and competing land uses. Despite this reality, the people and organizations we met and learned from demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity and generosity. With them, we explored ways to align economic and ecologic aims while offering dignified livelihoods to people.
The Restoration Economy begins with local skills and know-how. Deep Dirt Farm Institute, LLC is playing a role in growing the restoration economy of Patagonia through organizing workshops to train staff, interns and local volunteers in the art and practice of masonry and adobe construction.
A restoration economy is a relatively new idea and is sometimes defined as the economic activity associated with the restoration of degraded ecosystems. In this narrow sense, a restoration economy is the opposite of an extractive economy that creates economic activity by extracting or depleting natural resources.
We prefer a somewhat broader definition: A restoration economy is all of the economic activity associated with restoring degraded ecosystems and maintaining the ecosystem services provided by un-degraded natural ecosystems. Although the idea of ‘ecosystem services’ is also relative new, the concept has been well characterized and includes the basic ecosystem functions that support life such as the recycling of water and nutrients, the maintenance of biodiversity, the pollination of plants and the control of climate and disease plus the cultural services (i.e. spiritual and recreational benefits) provided by natural ecosystems.
By broadening the definition of restoration economy to include the economic activity associated with the maintenance of ecosystem services, the concept of “economy” is much broader than just providing jobs to those actually restoring degraded ecosystems. The broader concept includes all of the economic benefits derived from maintaining healthy ecosystems such as higher crop production from healthy pollinator populations, lower heath care costs because of safe drinking water, plus the jobs associated with ecotourism and the enjoyment of nature.
A key issue to be explored by the Institute is whether or not the restoration economy can grow to provide jobs and other economic benefits comparable to the those provided by the other economic sectors. One hint comes from Oregon, where issues like salmon recovery and forest regeneration have had a substantial economic benefit. A recent study found statewide that $411 million spent on 6740 restoration projects generated an estimated $752 to 977 million dollars in economic impact. To put these numbers in perspective, jobs in Forestry and Mining in Oregon contribute about $500M annually to the Oregon’s economy and employ 8 to 11,000 people depending on the season of the year.
In 2014 mining and logging together supplied approximately 14,000 jobs in all of Arizona and added about $600M to the Arizona economy. We do not know how many people are employed in the Arizona restoration economy, but it is likely far fewer than those employed in mining and logging. Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties are two of the poorest counties in Arizona. The 5 founding organizations planning for the Institute have combined annual budgets of only ~$2M per year yet likely represent about half of the restoration-related activity in our area. On the other hand, the economic activity associated with the maintenance of healthy ecosystems is much larger. The 2011 economic benefit to Santa Cruz county from watchable wildlife was estimated at $21M, primarily associated with bird watching along Sonoita Creek and watchable wildlife expenditures more than doubled over the last decade.
To fully justify the name “restoration economy” and to truly impact the economy and ecology of the borderlands region, the number of jobs and economic impact provided by restoring degraded ecosystems and maintaining ecosystem function needs to grow dramatically. As we implement the Institute, we will ask, “What does success look like?” Can we create 100 jobs in Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties? 1000? Can we be equally or more successful in northern Sonora?
The question of how the Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute fosters the development of a restoration economy becomes the question of how we foster economic activity that restores degraded systems and maintains the services provided by natural systems. This question will not be answered easily and will constitute much of the work of the Institute, especially during its initial years.
"A Restoration Economy Seeks to Take Root in the Borderlands" - an interview of BR executive director David Seibert for The Weekly Green on KXCI Community Radio
Listen to the Weekly Green's interview of Borderlands Restoration's Executive Director, David Seibert to learn more about the innovative work of Borderlands Restoration and its partnering organizations including the Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute.
"When paired with detention structures that stabilize wet or dry systems, native plants effectively knit the landscape together and root our work in place. " - David Seibert
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