#SummerScienceFriday | Be #WatershedActive as a Community Stakeholder Part 1: Ecosystem Services
With our LA #WatershedActive Recreation Guide, we shared how being #WatershedActive can be about enjoying recreational opportunities in the watershed. For this post and the next, we are expanding what it means to be #WatershedActive by helping individuals understand the value of natural resources and highlighting how empowered community stakeholders can exercise their voices and values to create healthier watersheds and communities.
We provided a guide to recreation in the LA River Watershed because chances are, unless you’re speaking to an outdoor enthusiast living in Los Angeles, most Angelenos won’t be aware of all the local opportunities to opt outside. But isn’t it kind of ironic that we shared a guide to the outdoors via social media? Yes, these are the times that we are living in, and United Nations Global Public Space Toolkit draws on the “conviction that the internet and social networks have become the new public spaces” as a constraint to their creation, management and enjoyment (1). So while CWH is happy to provide information in a way that resonates with the largest number of people, there is something to be said about the irony of it all; the technology that has driven us indoors and away from each other, simultaneously has the power to take us outside where we have more opportunities to interact with one another. To draw awareness to this reality and then to hope for the latter as a means to grow support for our natural spaces is a central purpose of this particular #SummerScienceFriday post. That’s because many of the challenges cited by the UN’s Global Public Space Toolkit could be overcome with stronger community engagement and #WatershedActive individuals. In this blog and the next, we will share reasons to appreciate our natural resources, explain why we should collectively opt outside and provide information to empower community stakeholders. Hopefully this will reinvigorate Angelenos and the public to adopt a new way of being #WatershedActive by getting involved to support open space and watershed health.
Valuing Our Natural Resources
Being #WatershedActive truly begins with getting outside and resisting the call of our computer screens and shopping malls. By opting for the outdoors, one can begin to appreciate the natural beauty of the watershed and the fun activities that natural spaces offer. Beyond recreation and aesthetics, there are even more services provided to us by our parks and waterways than meets the eye. Our environment and its natural resources, such as rivers, parks and other open spaces, provide many valuable services that translate into greater public health and social cohesion. These benefits are known as ecosystem services.
“An ecosystem service is any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provide to people. These benefits can be direct or indirect—small or large.”
— National Wildlife Federation
According to the National Wildlife Federation, ecosystem services provided by nature fall into four categories: supporting, regulative, provisional and cultural services (2). Supporting services are the natural laws and consistent, fundamental processes that allow the planet to sustain the most basic lifeforms on Earth and support the backbone of life on the planet at the base of food webs. Supporting services include the facilitation of the water cycle, photosynthesis, and soil formation. Regulative services moderate natural phenomena and make life possible for humans. For example, plants provide a regulative service when they disperse urban heat, regulate climate, and, in conjunction with soil, purify water through the process of infiltration. Provisional services refer to the resources we extract from the environment. These resources include the water we drink, fish that we’re able to consume from healthy aquatic ecosystems, and vegetables from a community or home garden.
This graphic from the Global Development Research Center demonstrates the ecosystem services and benefits of a healthy river system (3).
In addition to these ecosystem services, open spaces and the ability to opt outside provide a number of cultural services that translate into social benefits. Recreational, social, educational, aesthetic, and all non-material benefits are classified as cultural services. The social benefits of open space have the potential to enhance human health by providing areas for people to exercise and interact and providing nutritious food (a provisional service). See how nature is just good for you? If that’s not enough, Business Insider has reported on scientific studies that have shown possible connections between being outside and improved heart health, memory, and mental health (4). A recent publication from The University of Plymouth also reported on the link between being able to see green spaces from your home with reduced cravings for alcohol, cigarettes and unhealthy food (5).
Through ecosystem services, it is clear that environmental health is not mutually exclusive to public interests. Environmental health is public health. Open space supports natural processes in the watershed and enhances our collective physical, mental and emotional health. If we can collectively opt outside to increase support and stewardship of our natural resources, we can enhance the magnitude of ecosystem services for cleaner air and water, cooler environments, and thriving food webs in our communities.
Remember to tag us in your photos this summer with #WatershedActive and stay connected with us!
Many thanks to our #SummerScienceFriday partner!