Ecosystem Services

Photo: Holland Marsh, Ontario © Tim Hagen
Holland Marsh, Ontario

Valuation of ecosystem services

Failure to recognize the economic value of healthy ecosystems has contributed to the continuing decline of biodiversity worldwide.17 Duplication or replacement of ecosystem services with human-made alternatives is costly and can lack complementary services such as cultural value. Valuation of ecosystem services is a way to include biodiversity considerations in decision making about land use and economic activity and to measure the importance of biodiversity to people. The economic value of many provisioning services, such as the production of fish or timber, is often easily estimated because the products have well-defined prices. It is more complicated to place a value on non-market ecosystem services. A large-scale valuation study of ecosystems within the boreal region of Canada18 provides a framework for more detailed valuations in specific areas.

Ecosystem services of Ontario’s greenbelt

Map: Ontario's greenbelt. Click for graphic description (new window).
Source: adapted from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, 200924

Ontario’s Greenbelt Act of 2005 protected 7,604 km2 of land from further urban development in the Golden Horseshoe region of southern Ontario. This area supports a quarter of Canada’s population and is the fastest growing region in North America.23 The greenbelt is made up of green spaces, farmlands, communities, forests, wetlands, and watersheds, and includes habitat for more than a third of Ontario’s species at risk.23

The estimated total value of the area’s measurable non-market ecosystem services is approximately $2.6 billion annually.23 This estimate is likely low due to an incomplete understanding of all benefits provided by the greenbelt and the difficulty of assigning a value that represents and reflects the importance of the area to people. The value of the greenbelt is likely to increase with time as the ecosystems protected within it become increasingly rare.23

Ecosystem serviceAnnual value (millions)
Habitat$548
Flood control (wetlands)$380
Carbon storage and uptake$377
Agricultural pollination$298
Water runoff control by forests$278
Water filtration$131
Natural regeneration$98
Recreation and aesthetics$95
Cultural/spiritual$66
Biological control$8
Soil formation$6
Nutrient cycling$2
Erosion control<$1

Source : Wilson, 200823

Valuation of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds

Map: Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds. Click for graphic description (new window).

The relationship between people of northern Canada and caribou has developed over thousands of years and underpins many cultural values. People living in the range of the Beverly caribou herd, for example, have harvested caribou for approximately 8,000 years.19

An examination of the services provided by the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds found that the value of harvest, including meat, hides, and antlers, is approximately $19.9 million per year.20 Previous studies in the region, augmented with questionnaires and interviews, concluded that traditional harvest of caribou and associated activities were viewed by people throughout the range of the two herds as integral to the maintenance and transfer of knowledge, skills, and culture. Many people interviewed talked about how important the caribou harvest was to their identity and to the revitalization of their communities.20

The ecosystem services that people of the North derive from caribou are threatened. The Beverly herd has declined severely since the last survey in 1994.21 As a result, people from northern Saskatchewan who traditionally harvest Beverly caribou have had to fly north or east for their harvest. These caribou may be from other declining herds, such as the Qamanirjuaq, Bathurst, or Ahiak.21, 22

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