Ecotone and the Common Good
Biologists call the thin line of landscape, where specific ecological systems meet, an “ecotone”. Such intersections present unique, often overlooked, species of plants and wildlife. Some naturalists suggest, astonishingly, that over 90% of all life begins there.
Examples of an ecotone, include the meeting ground of meadow and forest, tidal basins, watersheds, river banks, estuaries. Such meeting places bring together a rich mix of life. Often such meeting places are overlooked or neglected.
In recent years the Grand Ronde Tribe http://www.grandronde.org/a confederation of several Native American communities of the western Willamette Valley in Oregon, have focused on restoring their watershed and river banks. Over the years the watersheds for many of Oregon’s rivers and streams have been logged, taking away the natural shade that cools the water and prevents soil erosion. As a result the water temperature has risen and the river bottom sand which serves as spawning ground for native fish, have been silted over. The warmer temperatures and lack of spawning ground has resulted in a decrease of insects and fish, particularly the Coho salmon, considered sacred to the native people.
As stewards of the land, the Grand Ronde has begun replanting watersheds and river banks with native plants and trees. Slowly the water temperature has lowered, the spawning ground restored and the Coho have begun to return to their ancestral waters. This ecotone is once again a meeting place where life flourishes.
According to the theology of the Grand Ronde, natural balance is part of the Creator’s plan. When we work to protect and restore this natural balance we are in harmony with the Creator and creation.
Historically many in the Christian tradition have been slow to understand this theology of balance. The focus has been on humans, to the neglect of our relationship with and responsibility for our neighbors in the natural world (water, insects, fish, wildlife, soil, plants, trees).
In the mid 1990’s the Catholic Bishop’s from five states in the USA and British Columbia in Canada, convened a series of meetings for all the ‘stakeholders’ along the Columbia River watershed. They brought together primary users of the river (Native Americans, loggers, fisherman, barge owners, wheat farmers, landowners, hydroelectric companies, environmentalists)
To the meetings, the Bishops and tribal elders, brought a sensitivity towards those who lacked a voice (the river, fish, wildlife, soil, plants). Drawing upon the wisdom of the native peoples and wisdom from within the Christian tradition itself, the river stakeholders, developed a plan for shared use that was to the extent possible, sustainable and mutually respectful.
Theologically both the Native Americans and the Bishops, refer to this as the ‘common good’. The common good reminds us that we can’t afford to mess our nest as all of life is intertwined.
The Grand Ronde honor the Creator as they seek to restore the ecotone that makes up their shared home with the Coho. They live out the theology summed up in this phrase: ‘If you love the Creator, take care of creation.’
What ecotone do you live in? In what ways can you and I work for the common good?