How we define “culture” and societal well-being related to culture depends heavily on who is looking at it, but culture can be generally described as “the customs and beliefs of a particular group of people that are used to express their collectively held values” (Soulbury Commission 2012). In the context of forests, culturally derived norms, beliefs, and values help drive preferences for forested landscapes and forest-based benefits such as diversity and identity, justice, education, freedom, and spirituality (Farber and others 2002, Fisher and others 2009, Kellert 1996). Environmental policies and responsible forest management can enhance how forests help give rise to and support cultural ecosystem service values. Likewise, human components (e.g., customs and beliefs) determine how forests are to be culturally valued (fig. 2.1). This is somewhat different when compared to other types of services (e.g., regulating services) because human culture plays a central role in determining how people interact with forests and perceive their associated benefits. In other words, human culture gives important meanings to forests that are recognized as valuable, but the forests themselves do not inherently possess these meanings.
Kreye, Melissa M.; Adams, Damian C.; Ghimire, Ramesh; Morse, Wayde; Stein, Taylor; Bowker, J. M. 2017. Forest ecosystem services: Cultural values. In: Trees at work: economic accounting for forest ecosystem services in the U.S. South. General Technical Report SRS-226. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station.