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  • Gauging Geographic Literacy to Inform Puget Sound Restoration
  • David J. Trimbach (bio) and Rebecca Niggemann (bio)

Diverse forms of inputs and knowledge contribute to ecological restoration (Clifford et al. 2021, Biedenweg et al. 2023). Place and place-based knowledge are one set of inputs that inform restoration. Place entails values, senses of place, land use and planning, behaviors, and governance (Cheng et al. 2003, Williams et al. 2013). The emergence of place-based conservation and even place-based policy illustrate the central role of place, including social-ecological context, place-dependent human well-being, local place-based knowledge, and place-affiliated culture, in restoration and broader forms of land management, planning, and policy (Williams et al. 2013, di Sciara et al. 2016, Beer et al. 2020). Williams et al. (2013) noted that place structures human knowledge and interactions with the world, necessitating the further inclusion of and respective benefits from knowledge of emplaced peoples, whether users, occupants, or practitioners. Place-based knowledge includes shared place names, place-based attributes, and even geographic coordinates (Dolan 2017, Escobedo et al. 2020, Trimbach et al. 2021). Such place-based knowledge can be referred to as geographic literacy or geoliteracy (Turner and Leydon 2012).

For the purpose of this study, geographic literacy refers to "the ability to understand, process, and utilize spatial data," and includes geographic knowledge and geospatial recognition (Turner and Leydon 2012). Geographic knowledge includes a person's ability to memorize or recognize place names and geographic locations' attributes at various scales, while geospatial recognition includes a person's ability to identify and locate geographic locations and their respective attributes on a visual representation of a place, including a map (Turner and Leydon 2012). Geographic literacy research has primarily focused on education (Turner and Leydon 2012, Dolan 2017) and has been widely promoted by the National Geographic Society (Roper Public Affairs 2006, Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic Society 2016).

In this article, we highlight the use of and findings from a geographic literacy survey conducted in collaboration between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Puget Sound Institute (PSI) of the University of Washington Tacoma. Inspired by a previous study focused on residents' geographic literacy of the Salish Sea conducted to inform transboundary conservation communications and public engagement (Trimbach et al. 2021), PSI sought to partly replicate this study by focusing on what Puget Sound residents know about estuaries, including whether residents recognize Puget Sound as an estuary.

The Puget Sound (Figure 1) is considered an estuary complex and one of the largest estuaries in the United States (Puget Sound Institute 2015). Puget Sound is a constituent waterbody of the larger transboundary Salish Sea, which also includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia (Trimbach et al. 2021). Puget Sound is defined by the Washington State Legislature as a body of water that includes all salt waters of Washington state inside the international boundary line between British Columbia and WA, and lying east of Neah Bay, and including all adjoining rivers and streams (Washington State Legislature 2017, Puget Sound Institute 2015).

Puget Sound faces innumerable challenges, sparking large scale transboundary restoration and protection efforts (Puget Sound Institute 2015). Notable restoration challenges include declining marine water condition, decreasing terrestrial bird population abundance, declining spawning Pacific herring, and struggling endangered orca populations (Puget Sound Partnership 2021). Puget Sound is also home to multiple threatened and endangered salmon population groups, including Oncorhyncus tshawytscha (Chinook salmon), that face habitat degradation, fish passage barriers, shoreline armor installation, and polluted waters, among others (Puget Sound Partnership 2021, Governor's Salmon Recovery Office and Recreation and Conservation Office 2023). When framing these challenges and potential restoration solutions, Puget Sound tends to be framed as an estuary in restoration research, outreach, education, and communications; however, it is not known whether 'estuary' is a commonly recognizable or understood term among Puget Sound residents.

This survey aimed to address this concern in order to contribute to Puget Sound restoration for two reasons. First, by gauging geographic literacy (e.g., knowledge and recognition), the Puget Sound restoration community (e.g., public agencies, tribal governments, nonprofits, and volunteer community groups), including PSI, would be able to better...