The Ecosystem Guild/Bio-Cultural Restoration Field Stations

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Bio-Cultural Restoration Field Stations are a restoration prototype being developed by the Snohomish Conservation District, NOAA Restoration Center and The Ecosystem Guild in the Lower Skykomish Floodplain. They aim to develop self-replicating and culturally-driven community events, rather than the institutionally-driven volunteer events typical in the restoration industry. The Skykomish prototype is intrinsic to development of Regenerative Riverscape Agroforestry as a strategy to increase community engagement in restoring Riparian Buffer Functions while increasing the social, economic, and cultural value of Riverscapes. The field station concept is an outgrowth of the 2015 Working Buffer Pilot Project, inspired by the global Ecosystem Restoration Camps movement.

The Field Station Rationale

  • Restoration and protection of public trust landscapes requires innovation in cultural systems that enables communities to become stewards of landscapes, including in their regeneration.
  • To achieve long-term protection and restoration at a territorial scale will likely require a culture of stewardship in addition to market mechanisms.
  • A culture of stewardship is enhanced when individuals have knowledge, agency and care, and in particular care is strengthened where it is emergent from specific social-ecological relationships and is embodied and practiced (West et al 2018).
  • Cultivation and empowerment of volunteer communities that care about ecosystems is strengthened when the site steward increases reciprocity (exchange of value for mutual benefit) among hosts, guests and the land

The Field Station Model

The Biocultural Restoration Field Station model aims to function independently of institutions, replicable anywhere in the Salish Sea, and driven by cultural rather than financial systems.

  • Volunteers groups are empowered through a network system of clubs or pods, are self-organizing, self-equipped, and self-catering.
  • Site Stewards negotiate access from a land-managing host, invite the participation of volunteer clubs, and develop a stewardship plan for a site, often as part of a Design Charrette (see Regenerative Riverscape Agroforestry tool kit).
  • The relationship between stewards, clubs, and field stations is described by a shared Ecosystem Guild Handbook.
  • The handbook is cultivated through a consent-based process among groups and stewards.

The Skykomish Field Station Prototype

Our first field station is being developed both to establish a regional ecosystem guild network, as well as initial events at the Reiner Farm in support of riparian stewardship by the Tulalip Tribes of Washington. Site assessments are stored on the Reiner Farm, or Lower Skykomish Floodplain pages.

Challenges

  • Land access - many land managers are reluctant to allow people to sleep on conservation sites for a variety of reasons.
  • Liability - we depend on the sponsorship of self-insured intuitions with volunteer programs. Conservation Districts are our partner in this regard, but it requires funding for staff hours for any work period. While this is less expensive than a CD-organized work party (the Guild is self organizing) it still requires institutional funding.
  • Plant supplies - at this time, we have no independant supply of plants. A mix of school and home nurseries (for example the Marshall Middle School Native Plant Nursery) may ultimately reduce costs of field station restoration.
  • Appropriate Infrastructures - high-quality field station experiences requires that Guild Groups build infrastructure to support shelter, warmth, water, sanitation, and other needs of protracted field station life. These infrastructures may require code compliance, and existing local code actively discourage primitive camping as part of persecuting people without homes.
  • Craft Development - the skills knowledge and abilities necessary to tend native vegetation over time to generate useful and biodiverse semi-wild vegetation are very uncommon--development of pathways for the development and sustenance of effective site stewards is critical.
  • Cultural Niche Formation - Site stewards with the skills have not existing economic model to sustain effort. This is evidenced by the absence of stewards. Existing economic and cultural models do not support site stewardship.