people working outside
Community work day at Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, Heʻeia, Oʻahu to plant an agroforest focused on re-connecting people to forest ecosystems. (Photo credit: Leah Bremer)

A forest, coral reef, rangeland or any other ecosystem does not necessarily provide the same benefits to everyone. A healthy forest can link to community well-being in multiple ways, including through deep ancestral and spiritual connections to place, increasing groundwater recharge for drinking or providing lei materials and medicinal products.

man holding corn
Diversified indigenous Nasa agricultural systems in the Cauca Valley, Colombia. (Photo credit: Leah Bremer)
woman with children planting
Planting a culturally valuable agroforest in Heʻeia, Oʻahu. (Photo credit: Leah Bremer)

A recent study demonstrates that sound environmental policy requires improved understanding of the diverse ways that people benefit and relate to these systems was co-authored by Leah Bremer, a research faculty member at the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization in the College of Social Sciences and Water Resources Research Center. The article was published in Nature Sustainability.

UH Mānoa alumna Lisa Mandle, who is lead author of the study and a lead scientist with the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, said, “Context matters…if we want to protect the critical assets we all depend on, we need actionable policies that incorporate peoples’ diverse needs. It shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach when we’re talking about people and nature.”

There is a global movement to better link environmental management to human well-being through the lens of ecosystem services and nature’s benefits to people. However, the vast majority of ecosystem services work has focused on the biophysical system, without adequately linking to the ways that people use, value and care for these systems.

The researchers emphasize a key ingredient for nature to be better included and factored into policies, sustainable development plans and other management decisions, is for scientific research to be more inclusive and people-focused.

“We need truly collaborative, community-engaged and interdisciplinary work that incorporates multiple perspectives and worldviews on the diverse ways that people relate to and depend on ecosystems,” said Bremer. “Equity and inclusion need to be centered in this work.”