VANCOUVER — The economic benefits of keeping the Peace River region's remaining farmland and nature intact are enormous, according to a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation. These ecosystems play a critical role in providing clean air, clean water, habitat for wildlife and many other ecological benefits that sustain the health and well-being of local residents, and contribute to the cultural and traditional ways of First Nations.
The Peace region of northeastern British Columbia is a major hotspot of resource and energy development in Canada, including hydroelectric power generation, mining, fracking, logging and planned natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure.
The study found that ecological services provided by farmland and nature in the Peace River Watershed are conservatively worth an estimated $7.9 billion to $8.6 billion a year.
The study assessed the economic values of the ecological benefits provided by forests, fields, wetlands, farmland, waterways and other ecosystems in the B.C. portion of the watershed, stretching over a 5.6-million-hectare area of the province. These benefits are referred to as "ecosystem services" by scientists and include water supply, air filtration, flood and erosion control, habitat for wildlife and agricultural pollinators, carbon storage and other benefits.
The total annual value for carbon stored in the forests, wetlands and grasslands of the Peace River Watershed was estimated at $6.7 billion to $7.4 billion per year, and the total value for other ecosystem services was estimated at $1.2 billion per year in economic benefits. Carbon storage, carbon sequestration and the habitat value of wetlands accounted for the greatest ecological value per hectare in the watershed.
"Even though the cumulative effects of resource development have affected more than 60 per cent of the Peace River Watershed, our study shows that remaining farmland and natural areas have an incredible ability to generate natural wealth," said the David Suzuki Foundation's Faisal Moola.
"We're concerned because the strain on the Peace River Watershed's farmland and natural ecosystems will only increase with the B.C. government's plan for increased oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas, as well as large infrastructure projects such as the proposed Site C Dam," he continued.
The recent final report by the provincial-federal Site C Joint Review Panel did not find in favour of or against the multi-billion-dollar Site C project but did raise concerns that the dam would have significant cumulative environmental and social impacts, including contributing to the further degradation of sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitat that support local First Nations.
"This study confirms what we have known for generations. Our Dane_Zaa people have been blessed with forests, rushing rivers and rolling grasslands that have sustained our communities for thousands of years," said Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation. "However, the cumulative effects of industrial development in our territories have been massive and can't be mitigated. They've had an enormous impact on our treaty rights as First Nations people."
Today's study is a follow-up to an earlier satellite analysis of the land-use impacts of industrial development in the Peace River Watershed by Global Forest Watch Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation. It found the region is under unprecedented development pressure, and little protected habitat has been set aside for wildlife and other ecological values. The Peace River Watershed already has 16,267 oil and gas well sites and 8,517 petroleum and natural gas facilities and tens of thousands of kilometres of logging roads, seismic lines and pipelines. The B.C. government's LNG and Site C plans would intensify this industrial footprint.
"We hope this report encourages discussion about how natural areas and farmland in B.C.'s irreplaceable Peace Region are valued — and undervalued — when decisions are made that could destroy the region's natural wealth. The Site C Dam would flood thousands of hectares of farmland and sensitive ecosystems. We hope the information in our study will be used by government to protect and restore the region's ecological integrity and ensure a sustainable future," Moola said.
— END —
For information, contact:
Dr. Faisal Moola, PhD
Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada: (647) 993-5788
Communications Specialist: (778) 874-3396
The Peace Dividend: Media backgrounder
The 58,000-square-kilometre Peace River Watershed in northeastern British Columbia is a valuable ecological and cultural region that provides highly productive agricultural lands, critical habitat for wildlife and migratory species and numerous natural resources. It is also the ancestral land of the Dane_zaa Treaty 8 First Nations.
This report assesses the ecosystem services provided by farmland and natural ecosystems within the B.C. portion of the Peace River Watershed. It identifies the services supplied by the study area's ecosystems based on the region's land cover and land use. This study was undertaken to provide information for local communities regarding the importance of the area's ecosystems for the well-being of the Peace River Watershed and its people. Another objective was to provide information to support decision-making at the policy level in hopes of maintaining the study area's environmental assets.
The study's land-cover analysis indicates that forests are the dominant ecosystem type, covering about 64.4 per cent of the study area. The other land-cover types included wetlands (9.2 per cent); grasslands (7.8 per cent); snow cover, rock and exposed lands (4.3 per cent); perennial croplands and pastures (4.3 per cent); shrublands (4.2 per cent); annual croplands (2.2 per cent); water (1.4 per cent) and developed land (0.1 per cent). An additional 1.8 per cent of the study area could not be classified in any land cover type because of technical issues such as cloud cover and shadowing in satellite images.
The total annual value for carbon stored in the forests, wetlands, grasslands, shrublands and cropland soils of the Peace River Watershed was estimated at $6.7 billion to $7.4 billion per year (central values).
The total annual value for all the other ecosystem services was estimated to range from $877.8 million per year ($167.34/ha/year) to $1.74 billion per year ($332.42/ha/year), with a central value of $1.2 billion per year ($231.29/ha/year).
Carbon storage, carbon sequestration and the habitat value of wetlands accounted for the greatest ecological value per hectare in the watershed.
Study limitations: Ecosystems have many values that cannot be monetized, and it was not possible to quantify and value all of the services provided by the study area's ecosystems, such as the value of natural areas to supporting the spiritual and cultural traditions of local First Nations. This valuation is an approximation of values, or a partial estimate.
According to a recent satellite-based analysis, land-use change has occurred across 20 per cent of the Peace River Watershed, but has had an ecological impact, in terms of ecosystem fragmentation and habitat degradation, on approximately 67 per cent of the watershed.
Other studies also indicate that ecological benefits may provide greater value than GDP generated from resource extraction that can destroy or degrade natural ecosystems. Ecological economists have conservatively estimated that Canada's massive boreal forest provides a staggering $570 billion a year in ecological benefits. These benefits are worth over 13.5 times more in societal economic value than the GDP generated by natural capital extraction industries such as mining, oil and gas development and forestry.
A 1997 study estimated that the total value of the world's ecosystems goods and services was between US$18 trillion and $61 trillion (2000 $), an amount similar to the size of the global economy. A follow-up study estimated that global habitat loss costs about $250 billion each year (2002 $). In 2005, the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reported on the condition of the world's ecosystems and their ability to provide services. It found that over the past 50 years, humans have changed the Earth's ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any other period in human history. The assessment concluded that 60 per cent of the world's ecosystem services are being degraded or used unsustainably (e.g., provision of freshwater, purification of air and water and regulation of regional and local climate).
Treaty 8 First Nations in the Peace Region have presented a joint declaration to the B.C. government requesting that further research on the cumulative impacts of industrial development in the region be undertaken before any further development takes place, including the proposed Site C Dam. If built, Site C would flood 3,173 hectares of prime farmland and destroy sensitive wildlife habitat.