Cultural Ecosystem Services in Alberta

 When we talk about valuing ecosystem services we’re often referring to a monetary value that’s placed on a tangible benefit the environment gives us. We understand the dollar value of a farmer producing food for consumption, but what about the benefits of being in nature that don’t have a dollar value attached to them? Nature can give us a sense of belonging, provide a place to practice our spirituality, or a landscape to hike and take in the aesthetic beauty of our surroundings. These intangible benefits belong to a subcategory of ecosystem services called ‘cultural ecosystem services’ and while it’s a bit more challenging to define the value of these services they still play an important role in making decisions on the landscape.

Cultural Ecosystem Services Framework:

The cultural ecosystem services framework looks at the interaction between an environmental space that enables our society’s cultural practices, and the benefits to our overall well-being that stem from that interaction. “Following this framework, it is in the relationship between environmental spaces and cultural practices that gives shape to the idea of cultural ecosystem services” (   

Typically, we see cultural ecosystem services provide benefits in 3 ways:

  1. Identity – i.e. sense of place and belonging; spirituality
  2. Experience – i.e. inspiration; discovery
  3. Capabilities – i.e. knowledge; health

CES in our Own Backyard:

Some examples of cultural ecosystem services right here in Alberta include:

Spiritual Connection

A well-known example of the spiritual connection people receive from nature in Alberta is found in Lac Ste. Anne’s “healing waters”. Every year, people from across Canada join the annual pilgrimage to this national historic site in Alberta, where they bathe and pray in the healing waters of Lac Ste. Anne. The waters create a space for ritual, and is said to provide healing and comfort to those who participate in it. 

Recreational Use

Many of us partake in outdoor recreational activities but we often overlook the fact that the environment is providing us with recreational ecosystem services. In his blog post on recreational ecosystem services, ABMI’s Marcus Becker writes, “whether it is camping at a provincial campground, hiking a backcountry trail, or sportfishing at a trophy lake, people are spending their money and their time to engage in activities that are profoundly influenced by the quality and quantity of environmental attributes.” You can read more on recreational ES over here on our blog.

Health and Wellness

As humans, we understand that there is connection between our well-being and exposure to The Great Outdoors. We can simply feel it when we go for a walk in the park and take in a breath of fresh air. Whether it’s through the ability to exercise outdoors, the stress reduction that comes with exposure to greenspace, or the social cohesion that benefits out mental health, we know there is a connection between our well-being and being in the natural environment. If you’d like to read more about the health benefits of being outdoors, we’ve got a blog post for you here.