Emma Reilly

An environmental watchdog says the wetlands, forests, and farmland of Hamilton are worth $293.5 million each year.
That’s the value put on the city’s 92,000 hectares of greenbelt by Sara Wilson, a B.C. economist and author of a new report looking into the monetary value of the area.
The report, released yesterday by the David Suzuki Foundation and produced with support from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, puts a $2.6-billion price tag on the entire Ontario greenbelt.
That figure is based on factors such as how much it would cost to re-create services such as water and air filtration, flood control and waste treatment naturally provided in the 728,000-hectare area.
Hamilton’s forests are worth $56.3 million, its waterways are worth $185.5 million and its farmland valued at $51.7 million, Wilson said.
The report was created to draw attention to the importance of the greenbelt, a protected stretch of green space around the Golden Horseshoe.
“A lot of people aren’t really aware of the value of nature,” Wilson said. “Our lives, livelihood and our economy relies on these ecosystems and their services.”
The report acknowledges that putting a price on an ecosystem is difficult because of a “lack of ecological and economic information.”
“We had to piece together different types of information because they’re not traditional values,” Wilson said.
The report is in the same vein as several recent studies that have put dollar values on the natural world:
* A York University study, released last year, predicts the city of Hamilton could make at least $1 billion from industry and tourism if the toxic sediment on the bottom of the harbour were removed.
* A study from Simon Fraser University, released last week, shows that conserving B.C.’s old growth forests makes more economic sense than cutting them down.
This process can require some “big extrapolations and assumptions,” said Andrew Muller, a professor emeritus at McMaster University who specializes in environmental economics.
“I think it’s a legitimate exercise, but it has to be done carefully,” he said, adding that the trend has been a matter of concern for economists for quite some time.
But ultimately, Wilson says, valuing ecosystems is more about recognizing their worth rather than pinning them with a specific dollar amount.
“Ultimately, they’re irreplaceable” and priceless, she said.
How they did it
The Suzuki Foundation asked the following questions:
Avoided cost: If the ecosystem weren’t there, how much money would be spent providing the same services? For example, the cost of a water treatment plant if rainwater wasn’t filtered through a forest.
Replacement cost: How much would it cost to re-create the services naturally provided in the greenbelt? For example, the cost of pollinating crops without bees.
Assessing economic damages: How much economic productivity would be lost if the ecosystem wasn’t there? For example, the time invested to re-create the same services provided by the ecosystem.
Net factor income: Does the ecosystem provide an opportunity for income? For example, cleaner water increasing commercial fisheries’ catches and income.