Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ecosystem Services: Putting a Price on Healthy Ecosystems

People benefit from a health ecosystem; when our environment is flourishing, we all benefit. There has been a growing movement to quantify the benefits we receive from the ecosystems where we live. These benefits are now being framed in a market-based context known as “Ecosystem Services.”

The following graphic is from Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, a report created for the United Nations Environment Programme.

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well-being. Select graphic to enlarge.

Last year, the Township of Langley adopted its Agricultural Viability Strategy. This strategy commits to investing at least $135,000 per year to support farming and the services it provides for people in Langley and Metro Vancouver. One of the key parts of the Agricultural Viability Strategy is to address "key issues such as open air burning, chemical use, wildlife habitat, nutrient management, environmental farm planning, and land stewardship.”

Since a healthy ecosystem provides provides tangible benifts to people, it makes sense that a monetary price can be calculated for the services provided.

A project called the Ecological Services Initiative is setting up pilot programs to see if it makes sense to “provide incentives to maintain natural systems and the services they provide in a cost-effective manner, socially fair manner” to farmers and rural landowners. The goal of the pilot program is to evaluate the effectiveness of paying financial incentives to ensure that rural and agricultural lands provide, or continues to provide, critical ecosystem services. This project is funded by the federal government, provincial government, the University of Alberta, and NGOs.

The Township of Langley has the most land within the Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver. The Ecological Services Initiative is looking to partner with the Township of Langley to setup a 3-year pilot program. The Township would need to invest $40,000 per year. This is within the $135,000 funding envelop of the Agricultural Viability Strategy. Information gathered from this pilot project will be used to determine the return on investment for paying landowners to maintain or enhance ecological services provided by their land.

If successful, the pilot project could become permanent or even expanded with the creation of a local conversation fund.

More information is available in the Township’s December 8th Afternoon Council Meeting Agenda.

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