Environmental decision-making compares market and non-market outputs, often in terms of willingness to pay. in addition to personal, private 'consumer' preferences, individuals may adopt a citizen perspective, judging matters from the point of view of society as a whole. Under such circumstances estimated willingness to pay using contingent valuation may not be an appropriate or reliable way to capture public preferences. This paper offers evidence of such a distinction in preferences and investigates the effect on respondents' willingness to pay. Visitors to an Irish forest were asked about willingness to pay for conservation forest, and about preferences for general forest attributes from both a personal/consumer and a social/citizen viewpoint. Forest managers were also interviewed. Results support the view that individuals express different preferences when adopting a personal or a social perspective. In comparison with the personal perspective, the social perspective gives greater weight to attributes with less direct and obvious visual appeal. Personal willingness to pay is found to vary with forest type (producing the same ranking as forest mangers) and to accord with personal views on forest attributes. This contrasts with social willingness to pay which is effectively the same for all conservation forest types and is also less related to the importance that respondents accord to forest-specific attributes. These results indicate that the private/consumer versus social/citizen distinction is important, but suggest that social willingness to pay may reflect respondents' views on society and public goods in general rather than providing a social valuation of the specific public good under consideration. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.