Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Rachelle K. Gould


Nonmaterial benefits from nature, often labeled as cultural ecosystem services, represent a core dimension of human well-being. Yet despite their importance, these benefits and associated values remain overlooked in environmental assessments and decisions.

This dissertation applies insights from multiple disciplines to document nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature interactions across geographic contexts and user groups. As nonmaterial benefits can be hard to elicit and measure, this work uses multiple existing data collection methods and tests a novel data collection tool. First, I use a qualitative study design to explore values and stewardship practices associated with urban foraging in New York City, NY. I find that material and nonmaterial benefits associated with a given ecosystem service are often interconnected; future valuations should acknowledge and account for this phenomenon. Next, I conduct an experiment to test whether environmental messages, framed through different types of values, can result in varying outcomes. My results show that relational values might be a strong motivation to protect watersheds, regardless of the framing of conservation messages. Then, I partner with the Intervale Center in Burlington, VT to explore the potential of using letter-writing as a tool to collect data and simultaneously create an engaging experience for visitors of natural areas. I find that this tool could be particularly suitable for the study of relational values. Ultimately, I conduct an in-person survey with the visitors of the Intervale Center to understand ways the Intervale lands contributes to their well-being and how visitors conceptualize stewardship of these lands. I find that the type of interactions people have with a landscape might be related to how people conceptualize stewardship of this landscape.

The findings from these four studies contribute to scholarly understanding of the importance nonmaterial benefits play to human well-being. The results stress the importance of inclusion of these benefits and associated values in future decisions to ensure equitable decision-making. Results also suggest that people often frame their interactions with ecosystems in relational terms, and relational values could potentially be used to communicate the importance of conservation.



Number of Pages

241 p.