Using social valuation to assess the public attitudes and preferences of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Texas
Lopez, Mayra A.
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Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by nature which enhance human well-being. These services can include food, storm protection, and clean water. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to value ecosystem services in a manner that conveys their importance to local resource managers and stakeholders. To inform the management practices undertaken by natural resource managers and policy-makers of the Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (MA-NERR), TX, we utilized social valuation; a method of valuing ecosystem services which uses survey responses from local stakeholders to rank area ecosystem services. Surveys were conducted between June and July of 2014 at twelve sampling sites within and around the reserve. The survey instrument was designed by researchers at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML) in Charleston, S.C., for the purpose of assessing stakeholder perceptions of ecosystem services. Respondents were asked about observed bio-physical changes to the environment over time, their opinion of specific management goals, and the adequacy of public access. The survey also included an interactive map, shown in Appendix B, where respondents could pinpoint locations of highly valued services. Summer surveys were combined with surveys conducted in November, December, and January of 2013 by HML in collaboration with MA-NERR volunteers. To determine differences, respondents were categorized into four groups: Summer, winter, local and non-local. Data were analyzed using ArcGIS and SolVES (Social Values for Ecosystem Services). SolVES is a US Geological Survey application for the assessment, mapping, modeling, and quantification of ecosystem services. This methodology, in combination with non-spatial survey questions, allowed for the spatial identification and ranking of socially valued ecosystem services within the MA-NERR to attain a robust assessment of the public attitudes and perceptions of the reserve. Heat maps created through SolVES identified the location of highly valued ecosystem services within the MA-NERR and found a positive relationship to the underlying environmental characteristics. In addition, SolVES identified relationships between the location of valued services and the distance to water, distance to roads, and land use / land cover. A categorical analysis of survey responses identified a significant difference between visitor groups. The social valuation of ecosystem services provides useful information for resource managers and policy-makers in terms of making ecosystem-based resource management decisions, as well as encouraging public participation to provide a sense of democracy and legitimacy to the decision-making process.
"A thesis submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER of SCIENCE in ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas.