Exploring the Existence, Perceptions, and Interpretations of Cultural Ecosystem Services in Brown County, Indiana
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Cultural ecosystem services represent a quarter of the ecosystem services as defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, but have been largely ignored throughout the subsequent ecosystem services research over the past decade. Researchers and studies that have focused on cultural ecosystem services have theorized that the field is so under-studied due to the difficulties that arise when trying to value cultural ecosystem services, which are not as easily measured through quantitative or market-based approaches like many of the other ecosystem services. The favorable focus on quantitative, market-based approaches have brought about various criticisms, as researchers argue that the approaches are unfit for valuing cultural ecosystem services, which are arguably better suited to be valued through more interdisciplinary, qualitative approaches. While navigating cultural ecosystem services certainly presents its challenges, they are undoubtedly valued by many different societies all around the world, have the ability to inspire and sustain ecosystem conservation, and can provide compelling reasons for conserving some ecosystems, particularly in industrialized societies. Cultural ecosystem services research has the potential to be particularly valuable in a place-based context, where the results of the research can be used not only to better understand cultural ecosystem services within a specific landscape, but also to help guide future development, planning, and management strategies. Brown County, located in south-central Indiana in the United States, is composed of a rather rugged and heavily forested landscape, which has impacted its development in many ways. In the first half of the twentieth century, much of the land in the county was purchased by the federal and state government in an effort to alleviate the ill effects the previously operating timber industry had caused. Around the same time, many artists started to flock to the county, attracted by its aesthetic beauty and relative isolation the Brown County hills provided. In a matter of no time, the county became known as an artist's mecca and was quickly established as the Artist Colony of the Midwest, and began drawing in tourists from nearby urban areas. Today, Nashville, a small town in the heart of the county, serves as a hub for the unique culture that was born out of the artist colony. Nestled among the Brown County hills, the town and surrounding county are rife with the evident influence the surrounding ecosystems have had on the community, making it an ideal place to study cultural ecosystem services. This study aims to identify the cultural ecosystem services that are present within the landscape of Brown County, better understand the way in which the cultural ecosystem services are perceived and interpreted by the community, and make suggestions on how the information that is discovered can be better incorporated into sustainable development, planning, and management strategies within the county to best benefit the overall community.