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Exploring quality of life and human well-being in Puget Sound restoration


By Kelly Biedenweg, Puget Sound Institute


Throughout Puget Sound, government and non-government land management agencies are increasingly interested in considering the human aspects of restoration management.  So far, this exploration has looked mostly at how humans influence the natural world: the pollution caused by failing septic systems or agricultural runoff or the decline in fish stock due to overfishing.  Recent work, however, is attempting to monitor how a healthier ecosystem can improve human quality of life.

Human Well-being and Quality of Life indices consider several aspects, including the economic, cognitive, cultural, and social values of healthy resources.  In the case of salmon, for example, economic indicators might include a stable, sufficient income due to a constant stock; cognitive indicators might include understanding of complex lifecycles; cultural indicators might include the maintenance of cultural ceremonies or salmon processing traditions; and social indicators may include the tight bonds formed among families that enjoy fishing together.

Throughout the Puget Sound region, agencies are exploring which social indicators to monitor in relation to ecosystem restoration and ways to measure such indicators.  The Puget Sound Partnership, for example, hopes to develop a Quality of Life Index at the basin-wide scale; the Hood Canal Coordinating Council is developing social and economic indicators for their Integrated Watershed Management Plan; The Nature Conservancy Washington is developing cultural and economic indicators for salmon restoration activities in the Quinault Indian Nation and measures of sustainability for the Emerald Coast; NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries and Science Center is defining social indicators associated with coastal ecosystems and resources; and the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Center is exploring participatory values mapping for spatially identifying the relationship between individuals’ values and natural resources.

Over the next few years, this diverse set of activities will allow us to learn crucial lessons about monitoring Human Well-being and Quality of Life in association with restoration projects.  We should gain insights into the most accessible data sources, the most robust and measurable indicators, the limits of measuring certain indicators at different spatial scales, and the strongest links between management activities and responses in society.


Kelly Biedenweg is a postdoctoral scholar through Stanford University and a Visiting Scientist at the Puget Sound Institute.  She has a PhD in the human dimensions of natural resource management and over the next three years will be working with PSI, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, The Nature Conservancy, the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Natural Capital Project to explore systematic methods for incorporating social and cultural values into ecosystem-based management planning.