Ecocultural attributes: Evaluating ecological degradation in terms of ecological goods and services versus subsistence and tribal values

Joanna Burger, Michael Gochfeld, Karen Pletnikoff, Ronald Snigaroff, Daniel Snigaroff, Tim Stamm

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


It is becoming increasingly clear that scientists, managers, lawyers, public policymakers, and the public must decide how to value what is provided by, and is a consequence of, natural resources. While "Western" scientists have clear definitions for the goods and services that ecosystems provide, we contend that these categories do not encompass the full totality of the values provided by natural resources. Partly the confusion results from a limited view of natural resources derived from the need to monetize the value of ecosystems and their component parts. Partly it derives from the "Western" way of separating natural resources from cultural resources or values, and partly it derives from the false dichotomy of assuming that ecosystems are natural, and anything constructed by man is not natural. In this article, we explore the previous assumptions, and suggest that because cultural resources often derive from, and indeed require, intact and unspoiled natural ecosystems or settings, that these values are rightly part of natural resources. The distinction is not trivial because of the current emphasis on cleaning up chemically and radiologically contaminated sites, on restoration of damaged ecosystems, on natural resource damage assessments, and on long-term stewardship goals. All of these processes depend upon defining natural resources appropriately. Several laws, regulations, and protocols depend upon natural resource trustees to protect natural resources on trust lands, which could lead to the circular definition that natural resources are those resources that the trustees feel they are responsible for. Where subsistence or tribal peoples are involved, the definition of natural resources should be broadened to include those ecocultural attributes that are dependent upon, and have incorporated, natural resources. For example, a traditional hunting and fishing ground is less valued by subsistence peoples if it is despoiled by contamination or physical ecosystem degradation; an Indian sacred ground is tarnished if the surrounding natural environment is degraded; a traditional homeland is less valued if the land itself is contaminated. Our argument is that intact natural resources are essential elements of many cultural resources, and this aspect requires and demands adequate consideration (and may therefore require compensation).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1261-1272
Number of pages12
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


  • Aleuts
  • Department of Energy
  • Ecocultural attributes
  • Ecological goods and services
  • Remediation
  • Restoration
  • Subsistence values
  • Tribal values


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