Ecosystem accounts are intended to help people monitor the health of the environment, by measuring (‘valuing’) the ways in which humans benefit from nature. These accounts are based on the ecosystem-services framework which groups benefits into three broad categories:
In western cultures, it is common to estimate the monetary value of these services by working out how much they benefit humans. Values may be compared with each other or added together to estimate the value of an entire ecosystem.
Indigenous cultural values, Country knowledge and management practices provide critical insights about valuing and maintaining our precious ecological resources. The Australian Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is developing an experimental system to account for ecosystem services. Working together with our Indigenous partners, we will consider whether it is possible to include cultural connections to Country within these experimental accounts, or whether there are alternative ways of recognising Indigenous cultural values.
Ecosystem-accounting approaches may not be compatible with Indigenous values, concepts and relationships with Country. First, it is not always appropriate to use money as a metric. Second, the ‘western’ ecosystem service categories may have little or no meaning in Indigenous contexts. Third, these approaches consider that benefits only flow from nature to people. But caring for Country is a two-way reciprocal relationship – people look after Country and Country looks after people.
Our partners for this project are the Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation (EAC) and the Indigenous Research Committee for Kakadu National Park. Together we will explore commonalities and differences between western ecosystem accounting frameworks and Indigenous understandings of cultural connections to Country.
This project is:
Larson S, Jarvis D, Stoeckl N, Barrowei R, Coleman B, Groves D, Hunter J, Lee M, Markham M, Larson A, Finau G and Douglas M (2023) 'Piecemeal stewardship activities miss numerous social and environmental benefits associated with culturally appropriate ways of caring for Country', Journal of Environmental Management 326(B): 116750, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.116750.
Stoeckl, N., Jarvis, D., Larson, S., Larson, A., Grainger, D., and Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation. 2021. Australian Indigenous insights into ecosystem services: Beyond services towards connectedness – People, place and time. Ecosystem Services. Volume 50, ISSN 2212-0416. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2021.101341.
This project is being led by Dr Diane Jarvis from James Cook University (JCU).
The project will be co-led by Professor Michael Douglas of The University of Western Australia and Professor Natalie Stoeckl of the University of Tasmania, with Indigenous scholar Dr Daniel Grainger from JCU as Chief Investigator.
This project is due for completion in June 2021.
Diane Jarvis, JCU