How much is nature worth? Obviously this is a tough question, and one that nature-loving advocates have long been unable to clearly answer.
Nature is, of course, priceless. But this estimate isn't entirely useful to local councillors and developers wrangling over a proposed development that will pave over a wetland or level a woodlot. And in the absence of practical economic values for the countless essential services natural areas provide, it is difficult to balance the benefits we get from nature with the costs and benefits of development.
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The Putting Natural Capital on the Map application lets users to highlight a parcel of land and generate a conservative estimate of the economic benefits the area's natural features provide each year. This map application currently focuses on water ecosystems in the Lower Mainland.
The application is based on a growing field called natural capital economics, which involves looking at nature's benefits and services in monetary terms. It's an effective way of reminding ourselves that fields, forests, and wetlands provide important services, like cleaning our air, filtering water, and providing food to sustain us. Putting a dollar value on local ecosystems can help decision-makers and the public better understand the importance of protecting nature.
After years of research into the valuation of ecosystem services, the David Suzuki Foundation has a wealth of natural capital data that, with the help of this new mapping tool, is accessible to the public.