Stripped Down: Extractive Industries, Cultural Ecosystem Services and Environmental Identity in West Virginia

Authors: Blake Neumann*, SUNY-ESF
Topics: Cultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: Cultural Ecosystem Services, Recreation, Cultural Heritage, Sense of Place, Environmental Identity, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Subsistence Production, Rites of Passage, Therapeutic Landscapes, Technology, Extractive Industry, Surface Mining, Mountaintop Removal, Environmental Justice, Land Use, Oral History, Central Appalachia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Extractive industries, such as surface mining and large-scale timbering, have significantly altered the landscape of central Appalachia, especially as these industries have become increasingly mechanized through the 20th century up to now. While the physiological impacts of these practices have been well-documented in the region, the cultural and social implications of changes to the landscape have received comparably little attention. Unimpaired landscapes provide cultural ecosystem services, which are “nonmaterial benefits ... from ecosystems [obtained] through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences” (MA, 2006) to nearby residents. These types of services are often difficult to measure, due to their intangibility and ambiguity. This project draws upon the operational definitions for specific cultural ecosystem service indicators provided by other peer-reviewed studies. Longtime residents of southern West Virginia were interviewed to identify how changes to the landscape are perceived and talked about in terms of these cultural and social benefits. Early results indicate that landscapes are a critical component of respondents’ cultural identity and the degradation leading to diminished cultural significance of these landscapes to nearby residents, along with other societal factors have also contributed to this depletion. Such findings contribute to a growing body of evidence of the harms of surface mining to rural Appalachian communities and imperiled cultural richness of the region.

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