The demand for better representation of cultural considerations in environmental management is increasingly evident. As two cases in point, ecosystem service approaches increasingly include cultural services, and resource planners recognize indigenous constituents and the cultural knowledge they hold as key to good environmental management. Accordingly, collaborations between anthropologists, planners, decision makers and biodiversity experts about the subject of culture are increasingly common-but also commonly fraught. Those whose expertise is culture often engage in such collaborations because they worry a practitioner from 'elsewhere' will employ a 'measure of culture' that is poorly or naively conceived. Those from an economic or biophysical training must grapple with the intangible properties of culture as they intersect with economic, biological or other material measures. This paper seeks to assist those who engage in collaborations to characterize cultural benefits or impacts relevant to decision-making in three ways; by: (i) considering the likely mindset of would-be collaborators; (ii) providing examples of tested approaches that might enable innovation; and (iii) characterizing the kinds of obstacles that are in principle solvable through methodological alternatives. We accomplish these tasks in part by examining three cases wherein culture was a critical variable in environmental decision making: risk management in New Zealand associated with Maori concerns about genetically modified organisms; cultural services to assist marine planning in coastal British Columbia; and a decision-making process involving a local First Nation about water flows in a regulated river in western Canada. We examine how 'culture' came to be manifest in each case, drawing from ethnographic and cultural-models interviews and using subjective metrics (recommended by theories of judgment and decision making) to express cultural concerns. We conclude that the characterization of cultural benefits and impacts is least amenable to methodological solution when prevailing cultural worldviews contain elements fundamentally at odds with efforts to quantify benefits/impacts, but that even in such cases some improvements are achievable if decision-makers are flexible regarding processes for consultation with community members and how quantification is structured.
We sought to take a first step toward better integration of social concerns into empirical ecosystem service (ES) work. We did this by adapting cognitive anthropological techniques to study the Clayoquot Sound social-ecological system on the Pacific coast of Canada's Vancouver Island. We used freelisting and ranking exercises to elicit how locals perceive ESs and to determine locals' preferred food species. We analyzed these data with the freelist-analysis software package ANTHROPAC. We considered the results in light of an ongoing trophic cascade caused by the government reintroduction of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and their spread along the island's Pacific coast. We interviewed 67 local residents (n = 29 females, n = 38 males; n = 26 self-identified First Nation individuals, and n = 41 non-First Nation individuals) and 4 government managers responsible for conservation policy in the region. We found that the mental categories participants-including trained ecologists-used to think about ESs, did not match the standard academic ES typology. With reference to the latest ecological model projections for the region, we found that First Nations individuals and women were most likely to perceive the most immediate ES losses from the trophic cascade, with the most certainty. The inverse was found for men and non-First Nations individuals, generally. This suggests that 2 historically disadvantaged groups (i.e., First Nations and women) are poised to experience the immediate impacts of the government-initiated trophic cascade as yet another social injustice in a long line of perceived inequities. Left unaddressed, this could complicate efforts at multistakeholder ecosystem management in the region.