Photo: Google Earth helps put dollar value on nature

Google Earth mapping software will allow users to highlight a region on the map and learn about the natural capital benefits within it.

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Imagine being able to find your backyard or neighbourhood park on a digital map and instantly learn how much the natural features inside it are worth. Thanks to a new partnership between the Foundation and Google Earth Outreach, you'll soon be able to do just that.

Google's Earth Outreach program gives nonprofit organizations the resources they need to create visuals that strengthen their causes. In the past few years they've helped organizations make positive change in many ways, from mapping genocide in Darfur to bringing Google Street View to the Amazon rainforest.

The Foundation will use Google Earth mapping tools to illustrate a concept that is at once crucial to protecting nature in Canada and difficult to envision. The idea of "natural capital" 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 Foundation has a wealth of natural capital data that, with the help of these new mapping tools, will be made accessible to the public, enabling them to discover the value of their own local environments.

The application will allow users to highlight a region on a map and learn about the types of nature within it, as well as the natural capital benefits and values (see image above). It will also allow users to add or remove natural items and human-made infrastructure, and discover, for example, how the natural capital valuation changes when they remove a wetland and replace it with a parking lot or a LEEDcertified building.

This new application will not only strengthen our arguments for protecting nature in Canada, but will allow our supporters to make strong cases for their own initiatives as well. Currently in development, the application will initially focus on Southern Ontario. We hope to expand it to include other parts of Canada.