Cultural Ecosystem Services in Decision Making

Bessie Schwartz
Puget Sound Institute
Project Period: 

Led by Bessie Schwartz -

Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES) represent a critical yet largely underdeveloped branch of the ecosystem services (ES) framework for environmental management. This category of ES, which includes intangible concepts such as spiritual connection and social cohesion, evades measurement under the traditional epistemologies and monetary valuation methods used by ES science. In recent years, non-economic social scientists have begun to lend their disciplinary resources to address the CES gap, offering a suite of non-monetary and even non-quantitative alternatives for capturing the essence and value of CES. This study looked at whether these tools are practically useful for political end-users. To explore how CES are understood and prioritized by policy-makers, we used conceptual mapping and an adapted Q-methodology to elicit the mental models that policymakers rely on to make decisions about the Shoreline Master Program on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Results indicate that while the policymakers readily acknowledged the concept behind CES, these services did not explicitly play a role in in their decision-making as compared to tangible ES and political concerns. Policymakers slightly increased their explicit consideration of CES following a brief exposure to a map depicting local resident values. However, they did not adopt the academic terms for CES that were used in the study. Instead they primarily referred to CES indirectly through the consideration of local stakeholders, essentially using people as a proxy for CES. This paper discusses the scientific and management implications of people serving as a proxy for CES in political decision-making and suggest avenues for future research. CES represent a unique dimension of the human-environment relationship and, rather than forcing them into the traditional framework of ES, they must be assessed and presented with equally unique methods.

Topic Area: 
Funding source: 
Yale School of Forestry
Research area: 
Ecosystem Services
Environmental governance: policy & institutions
cultural ecosystem services