Biosphere Region and Reinhabitation

In the 1970s, a counterculture group called Planet Drum Foundation was formed in California to discuss ideas about people in connection to the planet.

They pursued research and produced educative information on the relationships between human culture and the natural processes of the planetary biosphere. Today when confronting environmental crisis and conservation, we use terms like climate pollution and biodiversity lossreconciliation, and social and community innovations that follow the general thread of their work. In the 1970s, these ecologists conceptualized the term bioregion.

The Biosphere Reserve term and concept came from UNESCO in the late 1960s and similarly expressed notions of humans in relation to their environment. These concepts were attached to UNESCO’s preservation and protection efforts and formalized (also in the mid-1970s) through the establishment of the Man and Biosphere (MAB) program.

Suppose you’re only sort of familiar with the term Biosphere Reserve. In that case, you might wonder if it implies a fortress model of conservation: walled off, enclosed, gated, or perhaps even an enclosed domed structure.

Maybe because of those perceptions, combined with evolving conservation approaches, we now refer to these learning spaces as Biosphere Regions. This term reflects the core zone of protection, transitional zones, and gateway communities. We can trace the institutional programming history of the UNESCO program through documents, research, and archives. For those familiar with Big Bend, it’s interesting to reflect on the changing terminology in parallel with the historical outlaw culture and counterculture that incubated here in the high desert, alongside scientists and park employees.

Recently, exploring hard-to-reach abandoned mines in the area, my group noticed artifacts and discarded material from the mining operations. And from the 1970s: newspapers, semi-completed small-scale building projects, and personal items. In the 1970s, many people came to the desert to get away from something or get back to the land, where they might have encountered abandoned mines. These encounters are an opportunity to examine another term, reinhabitation. A word also put forth by members of the same group that familiarized the word bioregion. In 1987 they explained,

Reinhabitation means learning to live-in-place in an area that has been disrupted and injured through past exploitation. It involves becoming … aware of the particular ecological relationships that operate within and around it. It means understanding activities and evolving social behavior that will enrich the life of that place, restore its life-supporting systems, and establish an ecologically and socially sustainable pattern of existence within it.

Simply stated it involves becoming fully alive in and with a place. It involves applying membership in a biotic community and ceasing to be it’s exploiter.

So what exactly do these terms mean in a practical sense if they have to be so generalized in order to invite consensus? Who owns the definition of these words? One loose way of thinking about this question is, you do. Because you are the biosphere. The definition is activated by your relationships with collaborators, connection to nature, and reconciliation practices.

bioregion has no administrative authority – it’s a framework for understanding natural systems. And biosphere regions are administered collaboratively. In the Big Bend region, that collaboration corresponds with people on both sides of the border and those operating with the agency of their national park, protected area, or indigenous community. UNESCO gives recognition; it does not govern. Our actions are our own and matter.–

References and Links
This post credits and responds to the ideas of contrast, histories, and definitions written about by Don Alexander, Vancouver Island University, in International Journal of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. I generously credit Alexander’s article, referenced below.

Biospherejournal. (2017, January 6). Bioregions vs. Biosphere Reserves – Alexander. International Journal of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from http://biospherejournal.org/vol1-1/bioregions-vs-biosphere-reserves-dr-alexander/.

CDEC – Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition. Connecting people to nature and advancing the vision of transboundary conservation in Big Bend.

Word for the Day: Sky Island

Sometimes I lock the gate. Sometimes I leave it locked. Protecting the space in which I see and hear myself most clearly. Validation coming only from within.  My thoughts an island. 

Madera Canyon Overlook

Not the only “island” in west Texas, however, there are others.  Three others in fact: the Guadalupe, Chisos, and Davis Mountains.  Each an isolated range with peaks between 7,500 and 9,000 feet.  Each an anomaly, creating a cooler, wetter, landscape surrounded by arid lowland Chihuahuan desert.   A remembrance of what things might have looked like in this region over 10,000 years ago.

With just over 33,000 acres, plus another 102,000 in protected easements, the Davis Mountain Preserve is home to many watersheds feeding the surrounding creeks.  It provides shelter for plants and animals that could not survive in the desert below.  A place of dark skies for bear and elk to traverse without human interference.  To live uninterrupted.  Safeguarded by those who care.

Conceived the early 1900’s and realized in the 50’s, The Nature Conservancy is active today in over 70 countries and territories.  In Texas alone, TNC has protected over 1 million acres of land and more than 200 miles of rivers and streams.  This includes the restoration of native grasslands, preservation of habitats and water supplies, even the addition of 67,000 acres into Big Bend National Park – not an easy task.

At the Davis Mountains Preserve, horseback riding the 1.5 miles of Madera Overlook trail is a bit like being in a Disney film.  Birds chirping, wind blowing, rustling leaves, sunlight dappling the ground.  We work our way through the trees and suddenly the forest opens to the most wonderful surprise. We come upon a view. 

Sitting on a perfect rock bench, the sounds of a creek bubbling, a single truck works its way down the old dirt road below. Mount Livermore in the distance.  Butterflies dance around us, I breathe it all in.

This is the good stuff.

From the overlook we make our way down, past the visitor center to the Tor Peak Equestrian trail, another 3.2 miles roundtrip.  Grasses sway in the breeze, an orchestra working in tandem.  Views of rolling hills, mountains playing peek-a-boo through the gaps.  My horse, Dex, climbs… jerking me forward with every step.

Midway, I break for lunch among pinecones and needles.  Moss covered rocks scattered about like speckled eggs of every shape and size.  Trees of alligator bark.  We are not the only wildlife here.  Two bucks watched from afar, I enjoy the unveiling of it all.

They don’t allow many people in this preserve.  Reservations are limited and required.  Gates typically locked. The animals feel safe here. 

I feel safe here.

Driving home, I think about how important it is that we protect these special places.  Those untarnished in the world around us, those needing polish, and those in us.  So easy to do for others, yet so difficult to do for ourselves.  Difficult even to accept sometimes. 

And I am reminded not to turn from this world.  To hold on with arms wide open and lean in.  Investing in myself, my peace of mind, and my surroundings.  My world.

Open by reservation only, the Davis Mountains Preserve boasts close to 30 miles of horse trails with peaks up to 8,300 feet and incredible views.  To support or get involved with The Nature Conservancy or Davis Mountains Preserve:  https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/davis-mountains-preserve/

To get involved with The Nature Conservancy of Texas: https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/texas/