Social science

Tag: Social science

Voices Unbound: New perspectives on environmental challenges

A group of researchers at the University of Washington Tacoma asked more than a thousand people in Pierce County what they viewed as their most important environmental challenges. Nursing professor Robin Evans-Agnew will present some of the findings from the Voices Unbound project on Monday, March 22nd.
Most of the people who wandered by the Voices Unbound booth at the Washington State Fair were not policymakers or scientists. They had never been to a meeting of the governor’s Orca Task Force nor had they publicly debated the best policies for salmon recovery. They were not expecting to be asked about their opinions on the environment.
Nevertheless, a group of researchers in the booth were hungry to know what those opinions were. They were asking anyone within earshot to fill out a brief, anonymous postcard answering two simple but far-reaching questions: “What environmental challenges are most important to you? And what do you do every day to survive those challenges?”

The view from the Voices Unbound booth at the Washington State Fair. Photo courtesy of Voices Unbound.

In many cases, the visitors were in too much of a hurry to stop, but the Voices Unbound crew — including UWT School of Nursing professor Robin Evans-Agnew, urban ecologist Christopher Schell and social scientist Tom Koontz along with several UWT students — started up friendly conversations and walked alongside, getting as much information as they could.
Occasionally, people talked about protecting orcas and salmon. Some expressed worries over climate change, mirroring one of the dominant environmental topics of the day. At other times, respondents questioned the need for a survey at all. Some expressed their anger, saying they didn’t want to be part of a “liberal agenda” that they associated with talk about the environment. “Nothing is wrong with the environment,” they said. “The liberals are the problem.”
The answers seemed to vary from person to person, and the word “environment” became a Rorschach test of personal experiences. Strikingly, the researchers found little mention of more mainstream environmental issues. Instead, some respondents talked about poverty and food insecurity. A few answered that litter was a major concern. Others cited health issues such as drug addiction or air quality. In one postcard, a person describing herself as a “trans woman” saw her biggest environmental challenge as potential violence. “Most people are nice, but trans women are often the targets of violence,” she wrote. “I am averse to being in badly lit, isolated areas or environments that seem full of conservative or possibly threatening people.”
Over a seven-month period, between 2019 and 2020 (the project ended just prior to the COVID-19 lock-downs), the Voices Unbound team gathered more than a thousand such postcards at locations around Pierce County ranging from the state fair, to cultural festivals to homeless shelters and senior centers.
“We chose places where we wouldn’t necessarily find the sorts of people who already had a voice,” says Evans-Agnew, who co-led the project.
The Voices Unbound podcast features discussions about viewpoints expressed in a series of survey postcards.

For the Voices Unbound team, finding people that are sometimes left out of the conversation is one of the first steps toward better Puget Sound policy. Knowing what people care about — whether they are experts or not — often explains why they make good or bad environmental decisions. It can also reveal injustices and areas of concern that might go overlooked.
“When we went into many of these communities to hear their voices and their stories,” project co-leader Schell says, “the environments that they were living in were fundamentally different from the environments that are often times part of the mainstream discourse.”
The group now plans to publish their data, and last year they began a podcast about the postcards that featured interviews with environmental and health experts. On Monday, March 22nd Robin Evans-Agnew will discuss findings from the project in a seminar sponsored by the Puget Sound institute.

Orca report cover

Social scientists analyze public reactions to orca crisis

Social scientists at Oregon State University have been analyzing a trove of more than 17,000 public comments sent to the Washington state governor’s southern resident orca recovery task force. The researchers have added the comments to a keyword database to look at public emotions and perceptions around the issue of orca declines.
The orca task force was created in March 2018 after media reports of sick and dying whales prompted widespread public concern and led to a groundswell of activity to try to save the endangered whales from extinction. Since that time, Puget Sound’s southern resident orca population has continued to drop to 72 whales, the lowest number since initial counts of the population were conducted in 1976.
The study from Oregon State University’s Human Dimensions Lab analyzed public response data for both prominent emotions and potential connections people had to ‘Quality of Life Vital Signs’ established by the state’s Puget Sound Partnership.
“The most commonly represented emotions were trust, fear, sadness and anticipation,” reads a summary of the research. “Based on these findings, we can take steps to address the fear and sadness evoked by the decline of Southern Resident orcas and consider how to build trust and positive perceptions of governance in the proposed restoration strategies.”
Download the report on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound

Report cover

Survey shows Puget Sound residents prefer natural shorelines to armored ones

By Jeff Rice, Puget Sound Institute
Shoreline armoring not only damages the ecosystem, it may also impact our ‘sense of place’ and enjoyment of the environment, according to a 2019 report from Oregon State University. The report is based on surveys of both property owners and non-property owners in Puget Sound.
More than 66% of survey respondents indicated that natural attributes were a strong part of their connection to Puget Sound’s shorelines. The report’s author, Dr. David Trimbach of Oregon State University’s Human Dimensions Lab, argues that environmentally damaging shoreline development such as seawalls and bulkheads could diminish that connection.
“When survey respondents were asked to select their ‘ideal’ and ‘least ideal’ shorelines, they selected hard shorelines as their least ideal… and natural or soft shorelines as their ideal,” Trimbach writes. About 67% of respondents preferred natural shorelines.
Scientific studies have shown that shoreline armoring along Puget Sound’s beaches destroys habitat for salmon and forage fish, leads to beach erosion and lowers overall biodiversity. Approximately 30% of Puget Sound’s shorelines are considered to be armored.
According to Trimbach, understanding Puget Sound residents’ preference for more natural shorelines will have implications for shoreline management and policy. “Recognizing that shorelines are a shared natural resource with ecosystem services or benefits should be considered when making key shoreline decisions, including coastal development and armoring decisions,” he writes in the report.
The survey included 413 adult residents of Puget Sound’s 12 counties. 51.6% of the respondents were female and 47.9% were male. Respondents ranged from ages 18 to 85 or older. Questions focused on regional ’sense of place’ — a state-designated Vital Sign of Puget Sound health related to “place attachment, place identity, place meaning, and place dependence.”
Additional findings include (as quoted from the report):

  • “66.3% of respondents considered wildlife-natural areas as a high priority for shoreline use.”
  • “62.2% of respondents agreed that they felt an attachment to the region’s shorelines.”
  • “Respondents prioritized shoreline activities associated with maintaining habitat for fish and wildlife (70% high) and protecting wetlands for public benefits (51.6% high).”
  • “Respondents preferred shorelines being used for wildlife-natural areas (66.3% high priority) and public parks and facilities (53% high priority).”
  • “When asked to identify the item that most bothers them, survey participants responded that litter (43%), crowds (19%), and (general) site abuse (16%) were the most bothersome shoreline issues.”

You can view the full report on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Riparian buffers are strips of trees and shrubs along stream sides. They filter nutrients and chemicals, shade and protect the stream, and provide habitat for birds, insects and fish. Photo courtesy of USDA.

Do financial incentives motivate farmers to conserve land?

Occasionally, this space includes reports and essays from guest writers on the subject of Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Today’s guest blog is from Mollie Chapman, who received funding from the Puget Sound Institute in 2013 to study how financial incentives influence decisions by farmers to conserve ecologically important land.
By Mollie Chapman
Would you undertake conservation practices on your land when offered financial incentives? New research shows that financial incentives facilitate, but rarely motivate farmers. Instead, their values and relationships were key.
Sustainable food systems require the involvement of those who grow and raise our food. Yet many conservation programs struggle to recruit farmers, even when financial incentives are offered.
One such program is in Washington State’s Puget Sound region, where I was asked to help program mangers understand how to better recruit farmers. When I interviewed farmers[1]  many told me of their frustration. The program paid the farmers to convert some of their streamside land to habitat—what are called riparian buffers. Yet once the trees and shrubs were planted, farmers were instructed not to touch the new riparian buffer habitat.
The idea of leaving nature alone is common in the conservation and outdoor worlds. For example, wilderness areas often ask visitors to, “leave only footprints, take only photos.” But agricultural movements have a very different rallying cry, to keep their “hands in the dirt.” Being a good farmer means taking care of your land—and that requires getting your hands dirty.
 
(Above: Two very different ways of interacting with the land. Left: a lone hiker admires the view of the wilderness. Right: a farmer tends his potatoes with hands in the dirt.)
In our paper we analyzed several of these value conflicts between participants and programs. We based our analysis on relational values. Relational values offer a new way of thinking about values, or what matters to us and why. Most discussions of environmental values focus on the dollar value of something (instrumental value), or on its value based on moral standing (intrinsic value). We propose a third option. Environmental values are based on the relationships people have with specific places, landscapes, rivers, plants, animals or other parts of the natural world.
 
Fig. 1. Key relationships help to understand what matters. Farmers value their relationship to their land (1) and to their community (2). The farming community values its relationship to the landscape (3).
Fig. 1. Key relationships help to understand what matters. Farmers value their relationship to their land (1) and to their community (2). The farming community values its relationship to the landscape (3).
I explained this conflict between farmers’ values and the program’s no touch rule to the new program leader. My analysis aligned with his own intuitive experience.
A year later we spoke again. He had instructed his staff to start talking about the program using different language. Instead of describing the riparian buffers as “no touch” farmers were now told that they were growing a different kind of crop—a buffer crop.
In our paper we identify the relationships that are important to farmers. We show how these relationships form the basis for relational values. Finally, we describe how relational values conflicted with rules or language used by the incentive program. The table below shows some of the relational values that conflicted with the ‘No touch’ rule described above.

Relational Value Value conflicts with ‘No Touch’ rule
Neat and tidy aesthetics
Active land management
Agency over the landscape
Application of parcel specific experiential knowledge

Fig. 2. The above four relational values of farmers all conflicted with the idea of ‘no touch’ riparian buffers.
So, is money what matters most? Not for motivation. Most farmers can’t afford big projects like riparian buffers without financial assistance. But projects also need to line up with farmers’ values and relationships.
Overall, farmers in our study wanted:

  1. To use their own knowledge and experience
  2. Flexibility
  3. Projects with benefits for both the farm and the environment

Thinking about values and relationships can help all kinds of programs become more effective. Ill-considered financial incentives have led to poor outcomes in sectors from education to medicine, business to the military.
The first step to designing better programs is to listen. Listen to those who will be impacted. Find out what is important to them. Which relationships do they value? What does it mean to them to do their job well?
We recommend that conservation programs, even when they offer financial incentives, work to align with target participants’ relational values.
—-
Read the full article here:
Chapman, M., Satterfield, T., & Chan, K. M. A. (2019). When value conflicts are barriers: Can relational values help explain farmer participation in conservation incentive programs? Land Use Policy, 82, 464–475.
This research was made possible by support from the Puget Sound Institute and collaboration with the Snohomish Conservation District.
 
About the author:
Dr. Mollie Chapman is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where she studies the relationship between people and nature. She has interviewed farmers in Colombia, Costa Rica, USA and Canada.
 
[1] I use ‘farmer’ to refer to a variety of people who own and manage designated agricultural land, including full and part time agricultural producers, hobby farmers, nursery owners, and those who board horses.

Riparian buffers are strips of trees and shrubs along stream sides. They filter nutrients and chemicals, shade and protect the stream, and provide habitat for birds, insects and fish. Photo courtesy of USDA.

Do financial incentives motivate farmers to conserve land?

Occasionally, this space includes reports and essays from guest writers on the subject of Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Today’s guest blog is from Mollie Chapman, who received funding from the Puget Sound Institute in 2013 to study how financial incentives influence decisions by farmers to conserve ecologically important land.
By Mollie Chapman
Would you undertake conservation practices on your land when offered financial incentives? New research shows that financial incentives facilitate, but rarely motivate farmers. Instead, their values and relationships were key.
Sustainable food systems require the involvement of those who grow and raise our food. Yet many conservation programs struggle to recruit farmers, even when financial incentives are offered.
One such program is in Washington State’s Puget Sound region, where I was asked to help program mangers understand how to better recruit farmers. When I interviewed farmers[1]  many told me of their frustration. The program paid the farmers to convert some of their streamside land to habitat—what are called riparian buffers. Yet once the trees and shrubs were planted, farmers were instructed not to touch the new riparian buffer habitat.
The idea of leaving nature alone is common in the conservation and outdoor worlds. For example, wilderness areas often ask visitors to, “leave only footprints, take only photos.” But agricultural movements have a very different rallying cry, to keep their “hands in the dirt.” Being a good farmer means taking care of your land—and that requires getting your hands dirty.
 
(Above: Two very different ways of interacting with the land. Left: a lone hiker admires the view of the wilderness. Right: a farmer tends his potatoes with hands in the dirt.)
In our paper we analyzed several of these value conflicts between participants and programs. We based our analysis on relational values. Relational values offer a new way of thinking about values, or what matters to us and why. Most discussions of environmental values focus on the dollar value of something (instrumental value), or on its value based on moral standing (intrinsic value). We propose a third option. Environmental values are based on the relationships people have with specific places, landscapes, rivers, plants, animals or other parts of the natural world.
 
Fig. 1. Key relationships help to understand what matters. Farmers value their relationship to their land (1) and to their community (2). The farming community values its relationship to the landscape (3).
Fig. 1. Key relationships help to understand what matters. Farmers value their relationship to their land (1) and to their community (2). The farming community values its relationship to the landscape (3).
I explained this conflict between farmers’ values and the program’s no touch rule to the new program leader. My analysis aligned with his own intuitive experience.
A year later we spoke again. He had instructed his staff to start talking about the program using different language. Instead of describing the riparian buffers as “no touch” farmers were now told that they were growing a different kind of crop—a buffer crop.
In our paper we identify the relationships that are important to farmers. We show how these relationships form the basis for relational values. Finally, we describe how relational values conflicted with rules or language used by the incentive program. The table below shows some of the relational values that conflicted with the ‘No touch’ rule described above.

Relational Value Value conflicts with ‘No Touch’ rule
Neat and tidy aesthetics
Active land management
Agency over the landscape
Application of parcel specific experiential knowledge

Fig. 2. The above four relational values of farmers all conflicted with the idea of ‘no touch’ riparian buffers.
So, is money what matters most? Not for motivation. Most farmers can’t afford big projects like riparian buffers without financial assistance. But projects also need to line up with farmers’ values and relationships.
Overall, farmers in our study wanted:

  1. To use their own knowledge and experience
  2. Flexibility
  3. Projects with benefits for both the farm and the environment

Thinking about values and relationships can help all kinds of programs become more effective. Ill-considered financial incentives have led to poor outcomes in sectors from education to medicine, business to the military.
The first step to designing better programs is to listen. Listen to those who will be impacted. Find out what is important to them. Which relationships do they value? What does it mean to them to do their job well?
We recommend that conservation programs, even when they offer financial incentives, work to align with target participants’ relational values.
—-
Read the full article here:
Chapman, M., Satterfield, T., & Chan, K. M. A. (2019). When value conflicts are barriers: Can relational values help explain farmer participation in conservation incentive programs? Land Use Policy, 82, 464–475.
This research was made possible by support from the Puget Sound Institute and collaboration with the Snohomish Conservation District.
 
About the author:
Dr. Mollie Chapman is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where she studies the relationship between people and nature. She has interviewed farmers in Colombia, Costa Rica, USA and Canada.
 
[1] I use ‘farmer’ to refer to a variety of people who own and manage designated agricultural land, including full and part time agricultural producers, hobby farmers, nursery owners, and those who board horses.

Tsleil-Waututh canoe travel in Indian Arm at DiRr-6, a massive outcrop of intrusive granodioritic rock marked with a single painting, 2014. Most rock paintings were meant to be seen in this context. Photo by Jesse Morin

Dispatches: Ancient DNA reveals ecological history

Occasionally, this space includes reports and essays from guest writers on the subject of Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Social scientist Whitney Fleming has this dispatch on new findings that are being revealed by ancient sources. Archaeologists are looking at ancient DNA combined with oral histories to determine ecological conditions from the past. 
By Whitney Fleming
People have inhabited the waters around the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. It is only in recently that humans have destroyed ecosystems in the Salish Sea to the point where they need fixing.
Scientists and policy makers are trying to figure out how to save these systems that have been broken by decades of overuse and unsustainable practice. It is not a simple problem because cumulative effects from human actions damage ecosystems over time. These actions are not limited to the present. They also include future impacts and the things that humans have done in the past.
Ecological restoration involves returning nature to a healthy state — to how it was before — but how do we know what that state is? How do we know what we are trying to restore?
Looking at a small inlet, just to the north of Puget Sound near Vancouver, Canada, an interesting story of ecological history has unfolded. As archeologist Dr. Jesse Morin explains, Burrard Inlet records show that as far back as 1913, shellfish beds were inaccessible and devastated because of oil spills from a nearby refinery.
It is also true that herring, a keystone species in the area, were completely gone by 1898.
In many cases, Traditional Use Studies (TUS) are used to determine pre-European arrival conditions. These are studies that use the knowledge of native peoples to determine what resources they used, and what species were present. These studies do exist in Burrard Inlet from the Tsleil-Waututh harvesting practices, but the histories are from the mid 1900s.
“Forage fish are as important as salmon, and they don’t exists here anymore.” Dr. Morin says. By the mid 1900s, “Most these species were gone, some of them were too toxic to eat, and most of the land was already taken up by industry.”
Even if oral histories and TUS studies cannot provide the information needed for restoration, the historic lives of Tsleil-Waututh people can still give the answer.
Just like humans today, the native peoples of the region used to throw things away. While plant based material has long biodegraded, some things are left behind. Remarkably well preserved in this region, the garbage of the Tsleil-Waututh remains, leaving a 3,000-year trail of history. As Dr. Morin so lovingly described his line of work “Archaeology is the science of garbage piles.”
These left-behind garbage piles create stratified layers that scientist can radiocarbon date to get a timeline of history. Importantly, this garbage contains the remains of what people ate before the ecosystem was impacted by the arrival of European settlers.
The remains of animals, including fish, birds, shellfish, and mammals are present in these important archeological finds. One pile from Burrard Inlet contained the remains of over 70 species.
These relics are the key to uncovering what the environment looked like before the European arrival. Dr. Morin is able to examine the DNA present in these samples and determine the exact species that were present during those times. Using this ancient DNA of salmonids and herring, his work unfolds a clearer picture of what the ecosystem of Burrard Inlet looked like back in time.
Through this technique that combines social science and ecology, researchers hope the past leaves a door open for restoration in the future.
Whitney Fleming is pursuing a PhD in Integrating Ecosystem Services and Human Wellbeing at Oregon State University. This article was produced as part of the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference student writers project. Funding and support was provided by the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program and the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. 

Equity and social science integration at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

A new study looks at social science and equity integration within the proceedings of the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. The study was produced by David Trimbach on behalf of the Puget Sound Partnership for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the Puget Sound Institute.
From the report’s Introduction:
Social science and equity are increasingly considered integral aspects of ecosystem restoration and reflect an expanding recognition that diverse approaches, tools, and voices matter in recovery efforts. For the past 30 years, the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (SSEC 2018) has been an interdisciplinary showcase for regional transboundary recovery efforts focused on the Salish Sea. As such, its proceedings provide an opportunity to reflect on and illustrate the current status of social science and equity integration.
Read the full report in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound

PSI social scientist receives EPA early career award

PSI and OSU social scientist Kelly Biedenweg
PSI and OSU social scientist Kelly Biedenweg

PSI visiting scholar and lead social scientist Kelly Biedenweg has received a $400,000 EPA early career award to study the connection between human wellbeing and ecosystem health in Puget Sound. Biedenweg is currently an assistant professor at Oregon State University and the award continues some of the work she began at PSI to establish Human Wellbeing indicators for the Puget Sound Partnership.
In addition to her early career award, Biedenweg is a partner in a collaborative grant with PSI to support an improved understanding of how humans interact and engage with the Puget Sound ecosystem. She will work closely with community groups in Puget Sound to develop cost-benefit frameworks and other decision-making tools.

PSI social scientist receives EPA early career award

PSI and OSU social scientist Kelly Biedenweg
PSI and OSU social scientist Kelly Biedenweg

PSI visiting scholar and lead social scientist Kelly Biedenweg has received a $400,000 EPA early career award to study the connection between human wellbeing and ecosystem health in Puget Sound. Biedenweg is currently an assistant professor at Oregon State University and the award continues some of the work she began at PSI to establish Human Wellbeing indicators for the Puget Sound Partnership.
In addition to her early career award, Biedenweg is a partner in a collaborative grant with PSI to support an improved understanding of how humans interact and engage with the Puget Sound ecosystem. She will work closely with community groups in Puget Sound to develop cost-benefit frameworks and other decision-making tools.

PSI study links happiness to interactions with nature

Lani Matthews, 13, is chased down the Buckley Cemetery hill by her dog, Kona, in February. A study finds a link between interactions with nature and happiness for people in the Puget Sound area. Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article143536044.html#storylink=cpy
Lani Matthews, 13, is chased down the Buckley Cemetery hill by her dog, Kona, in February. A study finds a link between interactions with nature and happiness for people in the Puget Sound area. Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com

Can nature make you happy? Science weighs in. A recent study by PSI social scientist Kelly Biedenweg found that Puget Sound residents reported being happier when they engaged with the natural environment.
“We (in the Pacific Northwest) are pretty much the leaders in trying to understand how happiness and integration with the environment relate to each other,” Biedenweg told The News Tribune, which featured the study in its April 7th edition. Biedenweg has been working with the state of Washington to identify indicators of human well-being such as happiness, physical and psychological health and economic prosperity for the Puget Sound region.
The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and was funded by The National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. It was based on online surveys of 4,418 area residents across eleven Puget Sound counties.
A version of The News Tribune story was also published on April 9th in The Olympian.