Pacific Parklands Foundation

For a natural capital review of the Lower Mainland, measuring and valuing the ecosystem services of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

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Natural Capital Review

From sparkling sea and dense forests to rugged mountains and picture-perfect farmland, the Lower Mainland encompasses a number of different ecosystems. While we often hear about the value of our lumber and crops, we rarely hear about the values inherent in the natural world which surrounds us. Ecosystems such as wetlands and forests, for example, freely provide a wealth of benefits, such as water purification and carbon sequestration—services which would cost many millions of dollars to provide through systems constructed by people.  With a view to protecting vital local ecosystems, the Pacific Parklands Foundation (PPF) sought to quantify their value through a “natural capital review.”

Supporting Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, the Pacific Parklands Foundation has a mandate to protect valuable green space, enrich communities, and encourage philanthropy and volunteerism. Partnering with Metro Vancouver and the David Suzuki Foundation — the organization which conducted the research — they set out to complete the first Natural Capital Review (NCR) of the Lower Mainland. Natural capital is the earth’s “land, water, atmosphere, and resources,” which provide us with ecological services necessary to survival. With a study area stretching from Hope in the east to Squamish in the west, the review encompassed several different ecosystems, such as forests, alpine areas, wetlands, grass and shrublands, and agricultural land.

The value of each ecosystem service or benefit was calculated with a cost-based approach, which was determined by figuring out the cost of producing man-made alternatives for diminished or destroyed ecosystem services. (For example, what would it cost to replace the ecosystem services provided by a certain wetland if a manufactured solution were employed?). This value was then assigned to the ecosystem service as an “avoided damage cost.” While the services that ecosystems provide us with are free, it’s necessary to determine their market value in order to understand how much they contribute to the economy and to convey their importance to the public.

An overview of the findings shows that:

  • The dominant ecosystem is forest, taking up 61% of the study area.
  • Urbanized and developed land takes up 9%; alpine and exposed land takes up 10%; water covers 9%; shrublands and grasslands each cover 5%; and wetlands are 2.4%.
  • The top three benefits provided by our ecosystems are:
    • Climate regulation from carbon storage by forests, wetlands, grasslands, shrublands, and agricultural soils is equal to a value of $1.7 billion/year;
    • Water supply due to water filtration by forests is equal to a value of $1.6 billion/year;
    • Flood protection and water regulation provided by forest land cover is equal to a value of $1.2 billion/year.
  • The annual value of our five watersheds is:
    • Harrison River = $5,007/ha
    • Fraser Canyon = $4,862/ha
    • Squamish = $4,646/ha
    • Chilliwack River = $4,222/ha
    • Lower Fraser = $3,826/ha
  • The total value of all benefits provided by the natural capital in the study area is an estimated $5.4 billion/year or $3,880/ha2; this is a value of $2,462/person or $6,402/household each year.
  • Over the next 50 years, the value of the Lower Mainland’s natural capital is estimated to be between $96 and $270 billion.

The Natural Capital Review serves as a preliminary exploration into the economic value of our environment and the necessity for us to maintain it. The services and benefits provided by ecosystems are both costly and difficult to replicate. They are also vital to human health and wellness, and the stability of our climate. The purpose of the NCR was to motivate advocates and decision-makers to support the protection of natural capital and to educate Lower Mainland residents about the benefits derived from local ecosystems, fostering a connection between them and nature.

“The Pacific Parklands Foundation was extremely pleased to be the catalyst in initiating the valuation of ecosystem services in BC’s Lower Mainland and reinforcing the importance of protecting, restoring and enhancing parklands and green spaces within our communities and across Canada,” says Denise Coutts, the PPF’s Executive Director. “The implementation of the Natural Capital Ambassador Program is an important next step in creating a deeper appreciation and understanding of the benefits that nature provides. A second study on the valuation of the near shore marine and aquatic ecosystems has been undertaken by the David Suzuki Foundation and combined, these two landmark studies will result in a comprehensive accounting of natural capital assets in our region. Ideally, as land use threatens biodiversity and ecological health, key decision-makers will recognize the importance of protecting natural capital within our urban areas and influence how they manage the growth of our towns and cities.”

In 2009, the Real Estate Foundation approved a $50,000 grant to the Pacific Parklands Foundation for the Natural Capital Review. This project is in keeping with our mandate to support research and education that aims to promote sustainable land use.

For more information on the Pacific Parklands Foundation and to read the Natural Capital Review, please visit their website.

- Alicia Olive