What cost to using up ecosystems?

Celebrate National Wildlife Week by considering what the greatest threat to wildlife is, and then do something about it.

Shorelines teeming with life

Shorelines teeming with life


It’s National Wildlife Week in Canada, yet probably the biggest threat to wildlife continues to be loss of habitat—a preventable threat.

Without suitable habitat for wildlife, ultimately there won’t be any left.

The best thing we can do to conserve our wildlife resource is to preserve some wild places for wild critters to live.

The larger the critter, the larger the habitat must be to adequately protect it.

In other words, bears and moose require vast tracts of wild land in order to survive, but chipmunks and mice can probably manage with a little less. Obviously, if you protect habitat for those larger creatures, some would be preserved for the smaller ones.

However, different species have different requirements when it comes to habitat, so conserving a diversity of habitat types is essential to ensure a diversity of species survive.

In the past week or so, I’ve heard the phrase ‘ecosystem goods and services’ used repeatedly, but it’s a new term to me, even though the concept is not.

A new report by Nancy Olewiler, director of the SFU School of Public Policy calls for a full costing of the consequences of production and consumption on the natural environment.

Markets have failed to fully price ecosystem goods and services, she contends. Ecosystem goods and services are the flow of inputs from natural capital that are used, along with produced-capital and labour, to produce and sustain the economy’s goods and services and our well-being. She points out that the full impact of using these natural resources is rarely if ever factored into productivity.

Market prices need to be adjusted to reflect not only their direct costs, but also their impact on the country’s natural capital, she says.

Projects at the municipal and provincial level must adopt the idea of full-cost pricing on contaminants in order to conserve natural resources such as fossil fuels, minerals, forests, fish and soils, as well as environmental resources such as the atmosphere, water, land and ecosystems.

For instance, she notes that generally water prices are a reflection of the cost of delivering it, not the cost of water withdrawals on ecosystems. That can result in a loss of biodiversity, impacts on drainage, storm runoff and depletion of both surface and groundwater.

In the end, the cost will be in our attempts to re-store or re-construct natural infrastructure after we’ve destroyed it.

And, very often, those restoration attempts will be inadequate anyway, because few of us have any idea of the complexity of the natural systems we destroy, whether it’s a wetland or a forest—much less the capability of re-creating them.

So, perhaps it would serve us better to plan ahead and consider how we can operate without destroying natural systems in the first place.

And, perhaps we should consider the cost of ecosystem goods and services in everything we build and do, instead of ignoring it.

Just some thoughts, for National Wildlife Week.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.



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