Special issue of Coastal Management focuses on social sciences in Puget Sound recovery

The July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Articles range from political ecology to the development of human wellbeing indicators and directly address current Puget Sound restoration efforts. Guest editors include Encyclopedia of Puget Sound topic editor Kelly Biedenweg and Puget Sound Science Panel co-chair Katharine Wellman. The journal is co-edited by Patrick Christie of our editorial board. Extended abstracts of the articles will be available on these pages in coming weeks.

Coastal Management journal cover
Coastal Management journal cover


In practice, ecosystem recovery is often assumed to be the domain of the natural sciences with little incorporation of the results from the social sciences in the development of adaptive and effective approaches to recovery. Advancing the recovery of large scale ecosystems, such as the Puget Sound in Washington State, requires improved knowledge of the interdependencies between nature and humans. Human wellbeing and human behavior do not occur independently of the biophysical environment.  It is thus clear that the recovery of large scale ecosystems requires the integration of social and biophysical scientists to better understand drivers of change and tradeoffs among strategic opportunities.

Social scientists study the full diversity of social patterns at multiple scales, from individuals and local institutions to large social groups and transnational entities. Through systematic and iterative analyses and interpretations of empirical evidence, social scientists, like their natural science colleagues, build and test theories that can address the dynamic relationships between people and their environments, and the causes and consequences of social and environmental change. These research practices ultimately enable more accurate predictions of human responses to environmental policies, for example, and ideally result in improved ecosystem recovery across geographic scales. Environmental social scientists can explain how and why people affect the environment, how the environment affects human well-being and quality of life, what kinds of policies do and do not work to change human behavior, and which social systems are best adapted to sustaining natural resources.

In the Puget Sound, greater efforts are being made to engage social scientists across multiple disciplines to inform coastal zone management. This special issue highlights five studies that demonstrate the diversity of relevant social science methods and topics and their utility to ecosystem recovery. Each paper discusses the theoretical foundations and contributions, research methods and results, and how results are or can be incorporated to enhance Puget Sound restoration efforts. Several of the studies were solicited by the Puget Sound Partnership and its collaborating scientific body, the Puget Sound Institute at University of Washington Tacoma, while others were pursued independently. These studies, marking a convergence of support by the Puget Sound Partnership and the regional scientific community, offer theory and findings that can address management questions and generate future socio-ecological research programs.

Summary of articles

The first article, Complex tool for a complex problem (Breslow) presents the results of an ethnographic study looking at diverse stakeholder perceptions about the causes of salmon decline and the implications for recovery strategies. The second article, Collaboration within the Puget Sound marine and nearshore science network (Moore et al.), demonstrates methods for understanding stakeholders in restoration. In Indigenous community health and climate change: Integrating biophysical and social science indicators, Donatuto et al. share a process for examining social and natural science indicators relevant to climate change in the U.S. and Canadian Salish Sea. Biedenweg et al., in Developing human wellbeing indicators in the Puget Sound: Focusing on the watershed scale, describe a multi-step process for developing human wellbeing indicators related to the status natural resources. In The Sound Behavior Index: A tool to track long term environmental behavior change in Puget Sound, Ward et al. describe the development of a phone survey designed to track changes in environmentally responsible behaviors over time.

About the Author: 
Katharine F. Wellman 1, Kelly Biedenweg 2,3 & Kathleen Wolf 4: 1. Northern Economics, Inc. and Puget Sound Partnership Science Panel, Seattle, Washington, USA 2 Puget Sound Institute, University of Washington, Tacoma, Washington, USA 3 The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, Seattle, Washington, USA 4 College of the Environment (or School of Environmental and Forest Sciences), University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA