This article was originally published on the Natural Capital Lab

“…I find that valuing the ecosystem services associated with them – namely Recreational and Cultural – quite challenging. As I indicated last month (albeit buried in the footnotes), I consider Recreational and Cultural ecosystem services to be “passive” consumptive services that should be exempt from economic valuation. But the question, once again, is how should they be valued?

Socio-cultural values emphasize the “human nature” component of a natural capital resource. As such, we should consider natural capital resources providing them as being: “specific to the preferences of the beneficiary(ies) and expressed through land use practices and/or the likelihood of an ecosystem service being used. Some of these values are absolute; invaluable and irreplaceable (e.g., cultural or spiritual sites).”

Consuming a natural capital resource for Recreational purposes is obviously intended to evoke pleasurable experiences, and is a conscious choice made by the user. However, the need to engage in recreation is arguably a basic human function much like eating or drinking. The health benefits of recreating (and of not), are well documented in recent literature. I’m not a believer in the “Willingness to Pay” principle, as I don’t think it places value on the experience per se, rather it associates a cost with the equipment, facilities or infrastructure required to enjoy it. For example, one doesn’t pay for the experience of taking their dog for a walk in the forest, but they do pay for the leash, biscuits, and poopy-bags required to conduct said dog-walking. These costs do not (in my mind) represent the value of the experience of hiking with your favorite hound through the woods – SQUIRREL!!! The dog-walker could spend $25 on all of this and have a great experience, or could pay the same $25 and have a bad experience – the cost to access the resource is the same, but the value of the resource (and hence the experience) is much different. From this standpoint, it would boil down to what the resource means at a personal level, or how it is subjectively “valued” by the dog-walker (i.e., what characteristics do they look for in a forest when they choose to walk their dog there)…”

Read on at: Natural Capital Lab.