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
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 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
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