Quantitative comparison of some aesthetic factors among rivers

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It is difficult to evaluate the factors contributing to aesthetic or nonmonetary aspects of a landscape. In contrast, aspects which lend themselves to cost-benefit comparisons are now treated in a routine way. As a result, nonmonetary values are described either in emotion-loaded words or else are mentioned and thence forgotten.

The present report is a preliminary attempt to quantify some elements of aesthetic appeal while eliminating, insofar as possible, value judgments or personal preferences. If methods of recording such factors can be developed, the results promise to be a useful, new kind of basic data needed in many planning and decision-making circumstances. Such data would be especially useful when choices must be made among alternative courses of action. Such data would tend to provide a more prominent consideration of the nonmonetary aspects of a landscape.

Assignment of quantitative estimates to aesthetic factors leads not so much to ratios of value as to relative rank positions. In fact, value itself tends to carry a connotation of preference, whereas ranking can more easily be used for categorization without attribution of preference and thus it tends to a void the introduction at too early a stage of differences in preference.

Because the Federal Power Commission has been studying an application for a permit to construct one or more additional hydropower dams in the vicinity of Hells Canyon of the Snake River, the localities studied for the present discussion are in that region of Idaho. Hopefully, the data collected will provide some useful information on factors related to nonmonetary values in the region. 

The present discussion has been kept free of the preference judgments of the writer, and throughout the discussions observations are treated as facts.

Study Area

Additional publication details

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USGS Numbered Series
Quantitative comparison of some aesthetic factors among rivers
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
iii, 16 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Hells Canyon, Snake River