Measuring Non-Market Values: Oregon Launching ‘Subjective Well-Being Study’ Quantifying Perceived Benefits Of Marine Reserves

Oregon’s Marine Reserves Program will take part in a groundbreaking new study designed to estimate how Oregonians assign value to the reserves beyond traditional economic impacts.

The study’s results will reflect something akin to some nations’ “National Happiness Index,” which are measures of the collective happiness and well-being of a country’s population.

Conducted by faculty at Utah State and Oregon State universities, the Subjective Well-Being study is a continuation of an earlier project considering “non-market values” of the marine reserves. It will quantify concepts like what it means just to know five marine reserves exist in Oregon’s nearshore waters dedicated to research and with prohibitions on fishing and development.

In the survey, participants will be asked a series of questions on scenarios designed to investigate how they think these scenarios impact their well-being. Those changes to subjective well-being should help researchers understand how these responses relate to their attitudes toward non-market values.

These non-market values are in addition to traditional economic values like tourism dollars, income from research contracts with commercial fishing captains and other impacts to coastal communities.

“What we’re doing is pretty ground-breaking,” said Tommy Swearingen, the Marine Reserves Program’s Human Dimensions Project leader. “Subjective well-being has never been part of the equation.”

“Many people want us to measure these non-market values,” Swearingen said. “We’re trying to quantify the perceived benefits to the general public. Doing so will allow a more three-dimensional view of the socioeconomic values of the reserves. The research format also can be used in similar studies of other aspects of the environment.”

The study will begin this spring with an online survey sent to a cross-section of Oregonians who have previously agreed to participate in online surveys.

That round of questions will be used to help finalize the questions for the upcoming main survey, which is expected in late summer or fall.

Swearingen said the random sample in the final survey will be comprised of at least 1,200 Oregonians, half of whom will encounter subjective well-being questions and the other will get questions in a more conventional form of economic survey.

Those individuals will receive a post card to ask whether they are interested in participating and whether they would prefer responding as a mail survey or online.

Enacted by the Oregon Legislature in 2009, the Marine Reserves Program includes five actual marine reserves and nine protected areas that together cover nine percent of Oregon’s nearshore ocean waters. No plants or animals can be removed from the reserves and development is prohibited. They are underwater listening stations tracking ocean changes including fish, invertebrate and algal communities. It is the first long-term nearshore ocean conservation and monitoring program run by the state of Oregon and includes cutting-edge research on the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of the Oregon coast and coastal communities.

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