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Western Nevada is a Biosocial Region

Updated: May 6, 2022

There are several terms in use to describe the region including the City of Reno. The frequently used term, Truckee Meadows, is only a portion of the growing metropolitan area including and surrounding the City of Reno. Another frequently used term, Northern Nevada, is effectively used to describe the northern half of Nevada, not including the massive percentage of the population, political power, and outsider knowledge of Las Vegas. Northern Nevada, geographically, is massive compared to the metro surrounding Reno, because it includes regions to the East located around Winnemucca, Elko, Ely --- all the way to West Wendover on the Utah border. Northern Nevada stretches south to an east-west borderline above Tonopah, midway between Las Vegas and Reno.

A metropolitan area or metro is a region generally consisting of one densely populated core city, plus adjacent territory with a high degree of economic and social integration with the core as measured by commuting ties. The United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) now defines 169 Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs). They consist of various combinations of smaller adjacent statistical areas. The U.S. Census and all federal agencies use nested areas of varying population size to report statistics.

Metropolitan areas are separated from each other by sparsely populated rural areas only loosely connected to the metro. As a metro grows, the OMB determines if the connections warrant including these non-metropolitan areas into the metro.

CSAs include adjacent counties or county equivalents as the smallest administrative entity to make it easier to combine data often not available for smaller administrative entities. Outlying counties are included if 25% of workers living in the county commute to the central counties, or if 25% of the employment in the county consists of workers coming out from the central counties—the so-called "reverse" commuting pattern.

Yet the boundaries of administrative entities are created by people without using a well-defined formula. Early in our country’s history, the boundaries of western states were drawn as straight lines of latitude and longitude without considering the region’s natural features, ecology, or the lifeways and self-identification of the traditional stewards of the land we now share.

Often the boundaries were arbitrary and completely illogical. Our strange “corner” in the middle of Lake Tahoe is simply the point where 39°0′ North meets 120°0′ West. When negotiated, no one knew where these lines on the map would intersect. The borders of administrative entities are very often completely created and changed for political reasons – not arbitrary, yet by a limited list of causes.

At times, using counties as the smallest administrative entity leads to adding clearly non-metropolitan, rural areas of an individual county to a metro. An excellent example is the entire rural area of Washoe County north of Nixon and Sutcliffe on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Reservation included in the CSA centered on Reno.

There are other ways to categorize land, however. Unlike a metropolitan area defined by the Federal government by political boundaries of counties created by people, ecologists use the term bioregion. A bioregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area determined by natural features like watersheds, types of terrain (such as mountains or basins), or groups of species in common.

Bioregionalism, the movement to identify with one’s bioregion and live sustainably within it, is merely decades old in its modern version. Yet bioregionalism is not a new concept. Indigenous peoples around the world have understood this for thousands of years.

As population settlements and density spread beyond local and county borders, how can we intelligently grow together within the bioregion sustaining us? Regenerative thought requires rethinking the way we talk about place. Rather than using arbitrary borders created by government entities or simply referring to latitude lines on a map, bioregionalism allows us to think about the land as a whole.

At Regenesis Reno, we use the seldom-used term biosocial region to combine the interconnected social and environmental relationships of our bioregion with the political and economic relationships of our metropolitan area. We define Western Nevada as our biosocial region.

Western Nevada is the biosocial region connected by ecology, politics, and economy, including the combination of

  • Eight Nevada counties: Washoe, Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Storey, Churchill, Mineral, and Pershing counties

  • Three watersheds: The Truckee, Carson, and Walker River watersheds within Nevada and the Eastern Sierra of California 

The Truckee watershed in the Eastern Sierra of California includes the shores of Lake Tahoe in both states, notably containing by population: South Lake Tahoe (22,197) and the Town of Truckee (16,735). The upper watershed of the Carson River on the slopes of the Eastern Sierra of California contains sparsely populated portions of Alpine county including the Woodfords Community of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California (214) and Markleville (210). The California portion of the upper watershed of the Walker River contains sparsely populated portions of Mono County with Bridgeport (575) as the largest community.

The Economic Development Agency of Western Nevada (EDAWN) has a focus area identical to the five-county area designated by the census as the Reno–Carson City–Fernley, NV Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA). Our CSA includes Washoe, Carson City, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, and Storey counties.

The Western Nevada Development District (WNDD) is focused on the five counties of the CSA, except Lyon County, plus Churchill, Pershing, and Mineral counties for a total of seven counties.

We all know that water is a very important resource in Western Nevada. Regenerative development requires that we honor our natural capital in conjunction with our social and economic capital. Biosocial thinking is imperative in defining land as we address the continuing growth of our region. At Regenesis Reno, we choose to reflect the bioregion of our watersheds, rather than county lines alone. Our current settlement patterns show we are dependent on three watersheds. These watersheds span eight counties and two states. There is not one development entity with a focus area covering our full biosocial region. By looking at this entire region of Western Nevada*, it is clear that regenerative development will require much collaboration across jurisdictions.

*At this time, we are not active in California, so when we refer to Western Nevada, we are only referring to the eight-county metro connected by ecology and economy, including Washoe, Carson City, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, and Storey counties.

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