Human quality of life

Human quality of life is sometimes described using the term human wellbeing. Human wellbeing (HWB) is multi-faceted and can be enhanced, or negatively affected, by our daily experiences, such as the quality of our work life and personal relationships, our engagement in physical activity and adherence to a healthy diet, and opportunities to participate in cultural activities. Many facets of wellbeing are directly related to the health of the natural environment such as the ability to release stress in a peaceful forest or a thriving local economy derived from sustainable shellfish harvesting. The status of our wellbeing can influence the way we make decisions that affect the environment and the status of those resources, in turn, can affect our wellbeing. In many cases, this perspective is left out of ecosystem recovery. Because of a growing understanding of the relationship between HWB and the status of natural resources, planning for and monitoring human wellbeing as a component of ecosystem recovery is a growing trend. Within the Puget Sound specifically, the Puget Sound Partnership has adopted a series of quality of life indicators.


Developing Human Wellbeing Indicators for the Hood Canal Watershed, a report by Kelly Biedenweg, Ph.D., Stanford University and Puget Sound Institute and Adi Hanein, UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs (2013).


Person standing on a paddle board with the Seattle skyline in the background.

Puget Sound perceptions of environmental and climate change

About 80% of respondents to a 2022 human wellbeing survey reported some level of concern for environmental impacts affecting Puget Sound. The survey was funded by the Puget Sound Partnership and led by members in Oregon State University’s Human Dimensions Lab.

Colorful graphic showing chart of Puget Sound Vita Signs.

Summary report of 2022 human wellbeing Vital Signs survey

This report presents results of the 2022 survey to monitor the human wellbeing Vital Signs prepared for the Puget Sound Partnership by Oregon State University.

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State of the Sound report 2023

The 2023 State of the Sound is the Puget Sound Partnership’s eighth biennial report to the Legislature on progress toward the recovery of Puget Sound. The document reports on both the status of the Partnership's recovery efforts and a suite of ecosystem indicators referred to as the Puget Sound Vital Signs.

A 1924 photo titled "Treaty trees" shows the site of the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty. The photo is used by permission of the Washington State Historical Society (photo catalog no. 1943.42.30562) and was retrieved from

Legal milestones for Indigenous sovereignty and salmon co-management in the Puget Sound region

Treaty rights are critical to the sovereignity of Puget Sound area Tribes and are deeply connected to natural resource management. Five landmark treaties in our region were signed during a three-year period from 1854 to 1856 and continue to drive policy to this day.  

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State of the Sound report 2021

The 2021 State of the Sound is the Puget Sound Partnership’s seventh biennial report to the Legislature on progress toward the recovery of Puget Sound. The document reports on both the status of the Partnership's recovery efforts and a suite of ecosystem indicators referred to as the Puget Sound Vital Signs.

Timber pile bulkheads at Ledgewood Beach on Whidbey Island. Photo: Washington Department of Ecology (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Shared shorelines, shared meanings?: Examining place meaning in Puget Sound (extended abstract)

A 2021 article in the journal Applied Geography examines perceptions of shorelines in the Puget Sound region. A community survey described in the article showed that local residents preferred undeveloped shorelines to shorelines with armored structures such as seawalls and bulkheads. 

Salish Sea with Mt Baker in the background

Social Science for the Salish Sea

Social Science for the Salish Sea (S4) provides a foundation for future research projects, accessible information for planning or management decisions, and synthesized content to inform ecosystem recovery.

Washington state capital dome against blue sky

State agencies will focus on improving environmental justice under new law

The recently approved HEAL Act requires the state of Washington to address issues of environmental justice within its agencies. The Act is expected to be signed by the governor and focuses on inequities in environmental health conditions for disenfranchised populations.

Historic map of Seattle showing areas in different colors.

Why is so much pollution found in disadvantaged communities?

Researchers are looking at the forces of discrimination that worsen the environmental health risks for some communities.

Brightly painted canoes on river shore with construction cranes in background.

Diverse populations benefit from targeted efforts to improve environmental justice

Years of struggle have led to reduced pollution and a stronger sense of community in the Duwamish Valley. As cleanup efforts there continue, environmental justice has come front and center for the area's diverse populations.

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Priority science to support Puget Sound recovery: A Science work plan for 2020-2024

Priority Science to Support Recovery of the Puget Sound Ecosystem: A Science Work Plan for 2020-2024 (SWP for 2020-2024) describes the information, learning, and interaction needed to support the coordinated efforts to recover, protect, and improve the resilience of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Puget Sound shoreline at sunset. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.

Sensing liminal landscapes in Puget Sound

Puget Sound's shorelines are "liminal landscapes" that can inspire senses of "escape, transformation, and human creativity," according to a 2021 paper in GeoJournal. That may have regional policy implications as coastal researchers increasingly recognize the need to incorporate community inclusion and 'sense of place' in management decisions. The paper includes findings from a 12-county survey aimed at gauging residents’ sense of place for Puget Sound’s liminal shorelines.

A kayaker on Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Ecology.

Whose Puget Sound?: Examining place attachment, residency, and stewardship in the Puget Sound region

A 2020 article in the journal Geographical Review examines the current status of place attachment among Puget Sound residents in connection with environmental stewardship behaviors. The authors challenge often-touted negative perceptions of the region’s newcomers and conclude that residents, new and old, share a strong positive place attachment and sense of pro-environmental stewardship.

The Cougar Creek Fire in Klickitat County, Washington, 2015. Photo: USFS

Fire danger returning to Western Washington

Historically, the eastern part of the state has seen the largest impacts from fires, but climate change is now increasing the risk west of the Cascades. That could have big implications for many rural communities throughout Western Washington, including those in the Puget Sound region.

“The Blue Marble,” photo taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972, two years after the first Earth Day

Earth Day events go online because of virus

Participants in this year’s Earth Day activities won’t be rallying in large groups, participating in environmental festivals or coming together to clean up the Earth. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — April 21st — the environmental movement will be uniquely digital, with many people celebrating from their home computers. [This story is reprinted from the Puget Sound Institute-sponsored blog 'Our Water Ways.']

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Coastlines and communities: A preliminary glance at the relationship between shoreline armoring and sense of place in Puget Sound

A 2019 report from Oregon State University examines how community members, including non-property owners, value shorelines in Puget Sound. The report emphasizes the impacts of shoreline armoring on survey respondents' sense of place in the region.

The University of Washington Tacoma has spurred sustainable urban development including re-purposing of historic buildings, new housing, a museum and retail district, multi-use trails, and light rail transit. Photo courtesy: UW Tacoma

Urban lifestyles help to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem

The state of Washington estimates that the Puget Sound area will grow by more than 1.5 million residents within the next two decades. That is expected to have profound effects on the environment as more and more people move to undeveloped areas. The race is on to protect this critical rural habitat, but planners say what happens in the cities may be just as important.

2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes

Clam hunger

Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.


A comparative study of human well-being indicators across three Puget Sound regions

A 2016 paper in the journal Society and Natural Resources looks at the creation of human well-being indicators across three regions in the Puget Sound watershed. The author suggests that overarching domains for these indictors might be applied more broadly in other environmental contexts. 

Salmon fishing at Fauntleroy. Photo: Washington State Dept of Transportation (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Human dimensions

This content initiates a description of the social dimensions of the Puget Sound system with a short list of facts about population growth trends, how humans interact with and depend on the Puget Sound ecosystem for their wellbeing (in the broadest sense), and the large-scale policies and individual human activities that have the greatest potential impact on the Puget Sound ecosystem. 

Fig 1. The six projects assessed are located on both sides of the Canadian / United States border, which bisects the Salish Sea and its watershed.

Evaluating threats in multinational marine ecosystems: A Coast Salish first nations and tribal perspective

A 2015 paper in the journal PLoS ONE identifies ongoing and proposed energy-related development projects that will increase marine vessel traffic in the Salish Sea. It evaluates the threats each project poses to natural resources important to Coast Salish first nations and tribes.

Visual representation of Human Wellbeing domains for marine policy.

A holistic framework for identifying human wellbeing indicators for marine policy

A 2015 paper in the journal Marine Policy identifies six domains of human wellbeing related to the natural environment. The domains were developed based on case studies in Washington's Hood Canal and Olympic Coast regions.


Evaluating sense of place as a domain of human well-being for Puget Sound restoration

This report communicates findings of a social science study conducted between July 2013 and December 2014 on a focal domain of human well-being: sense of place.

Puget Sound Fact Book report cover

Puget Sound Fact Book

The Puget Sound Fact Book brings together statistics and other information about the health and makeup of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Areas of focus include climate change, geography, water quality, habitats, human dimensions and regional species. The fact book was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership.

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The Values of Place: Recreation and Cultural Ecosystem Services in Puget Sound

Coastal recreation, tourism, and ethical or existence values are among the most important ecosystem service (ES) benefits identified by Puget Sound stakeholders (Iceland et al, 2008). The ecosystem services (ES) concept has become the leading framework to understand and communicate the human dimensions of environmental change. This report focuses on economic, social and cultural values inextricably linked to ES benefits in the context of ongoing efforts to restore and protect the Sound.

2014 state of salmon in watersheds report cover

2014 state of salmon in watersheds executive summary

This report documents how Washingtonians have responded to the challenges of protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead to healthy status. It also serves as a tool to summarize achievements, track salmon recovery progress through common indicators, and identify data gaps that need to be filled.


Human dimensions of Puget Sound and Washington Coast ecosystem-based management

A workshop report prepared for the Puget Sound Institute and Washington Sea Grant

2012 State of Salmon in Watersheds Executive Summary report cover

2012 state of salmon in watersheds executive summary

Salmon recovery demands both dedication among people with different interests, and sustained resources. This biennial report tells the story of the progress made to date and the challenges ahead.

Fisherman cleaning and filleting a fish. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Subsistence fishing in a 21st century capitalist society: From commodity to gift

A 2015 paper in the journal Ecological Economics evaluated “personal use” and subsistence use of seafood among commercial operators in Washington and California, as well as the extent, range, and species diversity of noncommercial wild ocean seafood subsistence harvests. 

Social scientists will monitor several of the Puget Sound Partership's "Vital Signs" including Healthy Human Population and Human Quality of Life.

Recommended social indicators for the Puget Sound Partnership: A report summarizing lessons from three local case studies

A 2014 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute identifies 23 potential indicators of human wellbeing in the Puget Sound region. These indicators will inform the adoption of Human Quality of Life "Vital Signs" by the Puget Sound Partnership.

18-year-old L92 Crewser male resident orca, born 1995, and kayaker. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Stimulus-dependent response to disturbance affecting the activity of killer whales

A 2015 paper presented to the International Whaling Commission compares the impacts of kayaks and powerboats on killer whale populations.

Hood Canal Fireworks near Poulsbo, Washington. Photo: Eric Scouten. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Measuring human wellbeing indicators for Hood Canal

This 2014 Puget Sound Institue report shows baseline data, surveyed from Hood Canal residents, of four subjective indicators: accessing locally harvested products, experiencing positive emotions, working with community members to solve natural resource issues, and knowledge gained from different communication sources.

Olympia oysters. Photo: VIUDeepBay (CC BY 2.0)

Gifts from the sea: shellfish as an ecosystem service

The region's famed mollusks provide more than just money and jobs. They offer what are called ecosystem services—a wide variety of benefits that humans derive from an ecosystem.

Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management

Health of the Salish Sea as measured using transboundary ecosystem indicators

A December 2014 paper in the journal Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management describes a project to identify transboundary ecosystem indicators for the Salish Sea. 

Whatcom County’s Colonial Creek Campground site 85. Photo: Miguel Vieira  (CC BY 2.0)

Developing human wellbeing indicators related to the natural environment for Whatcom County

An October 2014 report examines the planning and monitoring of human wellbeing as a component of resource management in Whatcom County.

A “medicine wheel” graphic that will be used to showcase HWB indicators; copyright Biedenweg et al.

Developing Human Wellbeing Indicators for the Puyallup Watershed

A July 2014 report examines potential human wellbeing indicators for the Puyallup Watershed.

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Developing Human Wellbeing Indicators in the Puget Sound: Focusing on the Watershed Scale

This paper appears in the July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management, which focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound ecosystem recovery.

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Indigenous Community Health and Climate Change: Integrating Biophysical and Social Science Indicators

This paper appears in the July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management, which focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound ecosystem recovery.

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Special issue of Coastal Management focuses on social sciences in Puget Sound recovery

The July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Articles range from political ecology to the development of human wellbeing indicators and directly address current Puget Sound restoration efforts. Guest editors include Encyclopedia of Puget Sound topic editor Kelly Biedenweg and Puget Sound Science Panel co-chair Katharine Wellman. The journal is co-edited by Patrick Christie of our editorial board. Extended abstracts of the articles will be available on these pages in coming weeks.

The view from the shore of Brackett's Landing, a Marine Protected Area in Puget Sound. Photo by Jeff Rice. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Marine Protected Areas in Puget Sound

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been present in Puget Sound since the early 1900s, although most were established after the 1960s. By 1998 there were at least 102 intertidal and subtidal protected areas in Puget Sound, created and managed by at least 12 different agencies or organizations at the local, county, State and Federal level.

Sockey salmon. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Measuring Socio-Cultural Values Associated with Salmon in the Quinault Indian Nation

A 2014 report describes a study of socio-cultural values associated with blueback salmon in the Quinault Indian Nation. The blueback salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a unique strain of sockeye that returns primarily to the Quinault river system.

Social scientists will monitor several of the Puget Sound Partership's "Vital Signs" including Healthy Human Population and Human Quality of Life.

Social science and monitoring needs for Puget Sound recovery

A report by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute describes a 2013 workshop to integrate the social sciences into Puget Sound ecosystem monitoring. Social scientists will focus in part on several of the Puget Sound Partnership's designated ecosystem indicators, including categories such as Healthy Human Population and Human Quality of Life.

Herring spawn research in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA

An inventory of scientific research associated with Puget Sound recovery from 2011-2013

Every two years the Puget Sound Partnership is required to assess the status of scientific research relating to the recovery of Puget Sound, in a document knows as the Biennial Science Work Plan (BSWP). Among other tasks, this entails making an inventory of all ongoing research projects in the current biennium (2011-2013). We are posting this (draft) inventory of recovery-relevant research projects here to make the information generally available.

Photo by Ingrid Taylar

Cultural dimensions of socio-ecological systems: key connections and guiding principles for conservation in coastal environments

A November 2013 paper in the journal Conservation Letters examines the importance of cultural values to ecosystem-based management of coastal environments. Extended abstract by Melissa Poe of NOAA Fisheries and Washington Sea Grant, with Phil Levin and Karma Norman.

Hood canal watershed boundaries; image courtesy of the Puget Sound Partnership

Developing human wellbeing indicators for the Hood Canal watershed

The University of Washington Puget Sound Institute and Stanford University in collaboration with the Hood Canal Coordinating Council report on efforts to select human wellbeing indicators relevant to natural resource management in the Hood Canal watershed.

Interacting coastal based ecosystem services— recreation and water quality in Puget Sound

This paper uses water quality data to examine the relationship between environmental condition and recreational use of parks in Puget Sound.

Block seine fishing. Image courtesy of WDFW.

Report: Economic analysis of the non-treaty commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington State

This report, published in 2008 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, summarizes the economic importance of Washington fisheries using data from 2006. The report's Executive Summary is reprinted below, followed by summaries of data specific to Puget Sound.

Juvenile Manila clams. Photo: Julie Barber

Extended abstract— Poisoning the body to nourish the soul: Prioritising health risks and impacts in a Native American community

This is an extended abstract of Poisoning the body to nourish the soul: Prioritising health risks and impacts in a Native American community by Jamie L. Donatuto, Terre A. Satterfield and Robin Gregory. The full article was published in Health, Risk & Society, Vol. 13, No. 2, April 2011, 103–127. The extended abstract was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound by Jamie L. Donatuto. 


Well-being indicators in the Puget Sound Basin

A summary and categorization of types of social indicators and metrics used by government and non-government agencies in the Puget Sound Basin.

State of Our Watersheds Report

Report: 2012 State of Our Watersheds

The State of Our Watersheds Report is produced by the treaty tribes of western Washington, and seeks to present a comprehensive view of 20 watersheds in the Puget Sound region and the major issues that are impacting habitat.