I. Introduction to Cultural Services

When people talk about the value of services provided for us by the earth’s ecosystems, there are many things that come to mind. Likely the first things one might think of are the physical processes provided by these ecosystems such as carbon sequestration, water and air filtration, etc. While these are extremely important services, they often overshadow a whole different class of ecosystem services, the cultural ecosystem services. The cultural ecosystem services include such things as the aesthetic, spiritual, educational, and recreational values of the land (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

Cultural ecosystem services provide a wide range of benefits for society, although often times these values are sometimes hard to measure in economic terms because they tend to be more qualitative than quantitative. As cultures change over spatial areas, so do the ways people value cultural ecosystem services. Because of this cultural ecosystems tend to have low potential for mediation by socioeconomic factors (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Nevertheless, investments in projects that increase the community’s connection with their environment (in this case the lake) do end up contributing to the economic wellbeing of the community, whether directly or indirectly (Lake Champlain Basin Program, 2008)..

II. Context of Cultural Lake Ecosystem Services

There are numerous studies that have looked at the context of cultural ecosystem services.  Many attempt to put cultural values into the economic context in order to make them easier to digest and use in the political arena. Particularly, since the political sector can have trouble grasping cultural ecosystem service values in abstract terms, there has been a lot of interest in putting dollar values on the cultural ecosystem services provided by various lakes across the United States. Looking at services in terms of money, although it may stir up moral controversy regarding putting a price on nature, is really the easiest way to gain support for the preservation of cultural ecosystem services provided by lakes.

At Weiss Lake in Alabama, Professor David Bayne has looked at the way humans have depreciated our lakes as a result of exploiting them for economic resources. As a result of this cultural ecosystem services have suffered, making it more difficult for these services to be enjoyed for generations to come (Bayne, D. R., 1998). This shows the need for policies that recognize the long term social and economic impacts of resource exploitation in lake ecosystems.

Another study has shown that on lakefronts in Texas, proximity to the lake and the aesthetic values of the lake (a cultural ecosystem service) directly positively increase the value of house prices in the area surrounding the lake (Lansford, et. al., 1995). The conclusion presented in this study gives those that are worried about the economic well-being provided by high property values sufficient reason to care about the health of the lake and the cultural ecosystem service of aesthetics. In the long run this could be extremely beneficial in getting parties that might not normally be interested in water quality to do their part to ensure the health of lake ecosystems.

A study from the journal Marine Resource Economics directly relates higher water clarity and quality to higher revenue from activity based around the cultural ecosystem service of recreation (Freeman, A.M., 1995). This is something that is extremely important economically to the people living around any lake. A market for recreation and tourism creates a large amount of jobs within fields ranging from guiding services to food and lodging businesses. The employment created by the recreation market in turn stimulates additional spending within the rest of the local economy.  Knowing the economic benefits of a solid recreation and tourism industry and the relationship of this market to the health of the ecosystem, it is in the best interest of legislators to design policies that encourage maintaining a high level of water quality within the lake. It is clear that although in some instances it may be difficult to put dollar values on the cultural ecosystem services provided by lakes, in many cases the health of these ecosystem services is directly linked to the economic wellbeing of the communities surrounding the lake.

III. Context of Cultural Lake Ecosystem Services in Lake Champlain

Sunset on Lake Champlain

One of the first points we want to address involving cultural purposes on Lake Champlain is the direct connection between aesthetic views and personal properties near the lake’s shore. In many instances, landowners will alter their properties to gain greater access, or views to the lake. Currently, any development adjacent to the Champlain shoreline, private or public, needs to be reviewed by the Lake Champlain Conservation Board. These developments can include housing and commercial building, road construction, cultivation, dumping, filling, mowing, and herbicide application. (Burlington Municipal Development Plan, 2006) When residents choose to alter their shoreline properties, The Champlain Fish and Wildlife Association recommends setting aside buffers of naturally growing grasses, shrubs, and trees to protect the overall health of the watershed. The buffers are recommended to be 50-100 feet, in order to capture runoff. Property owners who wish to continue to develop their land for greater access to the lake must meet the standards set by Fish and Wildlife Association and the Lake Champlain Conservation Board. (Burlington Municipal Development Plan, 2006)

However, there are many ways to enjoy the aesthetic benefits of Lake Champlain without permanently altering properties both public and private. The public can view Lake Champlain by walking, running, or biking along the 1,300+ mile network of bicycle routes in and around the Champlain Basin. Available year round to the public, the bike path allows considerable seasonal variation around the lake that greatly enhances the aesthetic qualities, including views of spring high water levels, crashing waves during heavy storms, an abundance of changing colors that emerge from blooming vegetation in the spring, summer greens, and beautiful display of fall foliage. As well, there are many animal species that live in and around the basin such as bald eagles and falcons, salamanders and turtles, & fifty-six species of mammals including white-tailed deer, moose, and black bear. The aesthetic qualities of Lake Champlain are important to the quality of life for the people living along its shoreline and around its wetlands. Human interaction with nature has become less abundant in our world, as we increasingly become more urbanized, and more connected to technologies. What the Bike Path along Lake Champlain provides is a well rounded tour of the Champlain Basin, access to the flora and fauna of the region, an escape from the developed areas, and a healthy environment to exercise. (Economic Valuation of Freshwater Ecosystems, 1999)

Sources Cited

Bayne, David R. (Professor) “Alabama Issues Magazine” (1998) Alabama’s Surface Waters: A Treasure Taken for Granted. Retrieved on April 8, 2010 from: http://www.aces.edu/dept/fisheries/natural-resources/documents/alasurfacewater.pdf.

Freeman, A. M. (1995) The Benefits of Water Quality Improvements for Marine Recreation: A review of the Empirical Evidence. Marine Resource Economics Vol. 10. https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/28 262/1 /10040385.pdf.

Lake Champlain Basin Program. (2008). State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report –2008. Retrieved on April 10, 2010 from http://www.lcbp.org/PDFs/SOL2008-web.pdf

Lansford, H. N., Jones, L. L. (July 1st, 1995). Marginal Price of Lake Recreation and Aesthetics. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Vol. 27, No. 01. http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/handle/15347.

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Wetlands and Water. Washington, DC: Retrieved March 31, 2010 from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/Reports.aspx.

The following ecosystem services are linked to an in depth analysis of the benefits of these cultural services:

Service #1: Water Quality Affecting Tourism

Service #2: Forestry’s Impacts on Lake Aesthetics

Service #3: Lake Aesthetics Effect on Housing Values

Service #4: Effect of Invasive Species (Water Chestnuts) on Lake Aesthetics