Have you ever wondered what Alberta’s landscape will look like in the future? Like many Albertans, Bill Newton is hopeful for the future of his family ranch near the Porcupine Hills, despite increasing pressure to convert it to residential properties, other developments, or even cultivated crops. The challenge for land owners like Bill is the lack of economic incentives to maintain natural ecosystems despite the many non-economic services they provide. A market approach for ecosystem services can help us make better land use decisions by using economic instruments that encourage sustainable practices. Placing a value on these services will ensure that they are included in development decisions.
Ecosystem Services are benefits we receive from nature that contribute to our health and well-being. For example, on a typical ranch in southern Alberta, you would certainly find ecosystem services such as forage production and carbon sequestration. You would also find other benefits like biodiversity, water purification, pollination, and opportunities for people to enjoy beautiful views or perhaps fish in a near-by river. All of these are also ecosystem services that benefit humans; however, we don’t have the mechanisms to value them in a marketplace the way we value forage and beef production.
The ABMI is developing systems to assess ecosystem services across Alberta. Funded by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and Alberta Innovates-Bio Solutions, the ABMI uses a simulation model approach to map and measure ES on a provincial scale. To develop this system we’ve started with a handful of ES including: forage production, timber production, carbon storage, pollination, water purification and biodiversity. Now that we understand the supply of these services, we are better positioned to estimate the provision of ES under varied land use scenarios in regional planning and to place an economic value on ES so policy makers can design market tools. These ES approaches will help Albertans achieve desired environmental outcomes and contribute to the competitiveness of our resource industries such as agriculture.
You are likely familiar with some variation of the phrase “the more we know, the better we manage” and in the case of ecosystem services we know more today than we did 5 years ago. We understand the complexity and social challenges of placing an economic value on the environment. We have world-class monitoring and information systems that we’ve used to map and measure ES. We have the ability to help Albertans make informed decisions to manage our landscapes in a way that will grow our industries and achieve environmental outcomes.
For more information on the Ecosystems Services Assessment Project check out our video above!