Working Landscapes Defined

Working Landscapes In-Depth

Explore a Landscape!


A working landscape is an area where people live and work in a way that allows the native ecosystem to be sustained. Business and social activities are done in a way that minimizes the disturbance of native plants and animals.

A working landscape is an area where humans work as responsible members of a natural ecosystem. Ideally, all of the people within a working landscape are balancing their own needs with the needs of the environment. Striking that delicate balance is defined as mutual sustainability—everyone's needs are met in a way that will maintain the landscape into the future.

Three Elements
To achieve mutual sustainability, three elements need to work together: the social element, ecological element, and economic element. These three elements help us understand what a working landscape is. Economics involves money. Social needs and wants are the ways we live our lives. Ecology is the environment and ecosystem. In a working landscape, these three parts are related..

Balance is necessary for any working landscape. Economics, social needs, and ecology must be given equal importance within a working landscape. This kind of balance is called mutual sustainability. People who live and work within a working landscape are balancing their own needs with the needs of the environment. Everyone and thing's needs are met in a way that maintains the landscape well into the future.

Maintaining or enhancing the environment while we use the land for social purposes and economic development is sustainability.

All landscapes exist in an environment. An environment includes, but is not limited to, environmental conditions affecting the life, development, and survival of organisms. Humans are able to adapt to most conditions, but not all (extreme heat and cold). An environment could include, but is not limited to, wind, rain, type of soil, plants, shelter, animals, temperature, and light. Everything and everyone lives in an environment. Many organisms require a specific environment for their survival.

An ecosystem is all of the living and non-living parts of a given area in nature and their relationship to one another. An evergreen forest, a tall grass prairie, a cypress swamp are all examples of ecosystems. Within the environment of a working landscape there may be several types of ecosystems.

All organisms within an ecosystem are connected to one another, directly or indirectly. A plant that relies on a specific insect for pollination is an example of a direct connection. An owl that feeds on mice that eat plants seeds is indirectly connected to the insect that pollinates the plant.

What's Not a Working Landscape?
Not all places can be working landscapes. Places that aren't working landscapes aren't necessarily bad. In some places, we want to protect or preserve the natural state of the land far into the future. In these places, the ecology of the land is a higher priority than the economic or social needs. In other places, like cities and some industrial areas, the economic or social needs have been given priority over ecology.

Sometimes not being a working landscape is a very bad thing. There are places where human activity or nature has drastically altered the area to such an extent that the land cannot sustain native inhabitants or any human economic or social function.


Explore More: Working Landscapes
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.