An ecosystem service framework to sustain biodiversity in a watershed in conflict: Socio-cultural and monetary valuation
A social-ecological system framework recognizes that human wellbeing depends on ecosystem services, but conservation of these services depends on the human societies in which biodiversity is embedded. Ecosystem services valuation is becoming a popular approach to weigh tradeoffs in environmental management, particularly where natural resources such as freshwater are limited. However, for this approach to be successful, we need a comprehensive framework that combines biophysical, socio-cultural and monetary values. We propose a framework which differentiates the importance of an ecosystem’s capacity to provide services (supply side) and the social demand for those services (demand side). We define supply side as the capacity of an area to provide a specific bundle of ecosystem services within a given time period, and demand side as the sum of all ecosystem services currently consumed, used, or valued in a particular area.
We are using this framework to inform water management in a watershed with high conflict over water allocation and use, the Kiamichi River in southeastern Oklahoma. To assess the demand for ecosystem services from this watershed, we conducted individual face-to-face surveys at 36 sites in the watershed and around Oklahoma City (a major water user). We used the contingent valuation method to identify how people perceived the economic values of eight ecosystem services: freshwater provision, water regulation, water quality, air quality, habitat for species, recreation, cultural heritage and local identity. We first identified and characterized ecosystem service beneficiaries according to how they use and value ecosystem services. We then analyzed the social and cultural factors underlying economic support for maintaining these services. Finally, we used a willingness to pay approach to identify the economic value of services and explored potential biases in water management based on social and cultural attributes.
Stakeholders identified water quality and habitat for species as the most important and valuable services. We estimated a total economic value for all watershed services of $138.32 per household annually with an average of $13.45 per service. However, responses varied greatly across stakeholders groups and we uncovered potential conflicts between water user groups based on whether or not they resided in the watershed. Our results will allow managers to examine stakeholder group attitudes towards specific services, quantify the economic value of services, and then weigh the tradeoffs involved in their protection