“Stitching the West Back Together” Highlights Community-Based Collaborative Conservation Groups

9780226165714Executive Director David Seibert and one of the BR contributing founders, Gary P. Nabhan, are both contributors to the recent publication “Stitching the West Back Together” – a collection of articles about collaborative conservation efforts in the Western United States. The volume explores some of the challenges and successes in addressing large-scale ecosystem restoration in a checkerboard landscape of public and private landholders such as we encounter here in Southern Arizona.

Biodiversity – the promotion and maintenance of – is the bottom line for restoration activities. Multiple scientific studies as well as eons of cultural knowledge show that biodiverse ecosystems have more stability (beneficial for say, moderating the effects of extreme climate events) and confer greater ecosystem services (nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pest regulation, pollination, and agricultural productivity to name a few) to the communities they serve. The environmental movement that has developed over the past 40 years would have most people assume that biodiversity is only valued by “conservationists” – and that these conservationists are locked in conflict with the people who live and work on the lands they seek to protect. But this is not the case, as “Stitching the West Back Together” explains.


The western United States are notorious for their variety of land uses, such as ranching, agriculture, public lands and protected spaces, urban areas, and suburban developments. The strength of these divided systems in promoting biodiversity lies not simply in large expanses of public land, but also in the economies that tie local cultures to the health of the land. Researchers have uncovered that a mosaic of public and private forests and rangelands, that include but are not limited to protected areas, is more effective for maintaining biodiversity than protected areas alone.

And these land-based communities in the southwest have organized to protect the productivity of their landscapes. “Commuity-Based Collaborative Conservation” groups (CBCCs), such as the Malpai Borderlands Group and Altar Valley Conservation Alliance (the group that gave BR our fearless leader, Dr. Dave Seibert!), piece together a modern vision of conserving working landscapes by providing a framework for conservation that cuts across jurisdictions and land ownership boundaries.

CBCCs serve a critical function by connecting public land managers, who often turn-over frequently, with private landowners and producers that maintain a deep sense of place, NGOs, universities, and other research groups. Together they work to identify and work towards the common goals of maintaining ecosystem productivity for the benefit of humans and wildlife. This is not always easy – many of these stakeholders carry a history of the exploitation of land for profit, and this is not limited to private landowners. Creating a forum for meeting, discussing, and promoting a democratic system of land management with a perpetual discourse between conservation and production – this is what CBCCs and other restoration groups provide.

While written in a clearly academic prose, “Stitching the West Back Together” is an accessible read for those interested in innovative land management solutions, and a necessary volume for any budding restoration practitioner. The collection celebrates what is beautiful and truly unique about the west: our respect for our unique and shared experiences that define the constant ebb and flow, give and take, of landscape conservation.

You can find the book at the University of Chicago Press’s website, or just stop by the Borderlands Restoration office at 299 McKeown (behind the visitor’s center), and ask to check out a copy (we have a few!).



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