The ecological benefits provided by the Lake Simcoe ecosystem, a vital part of the world’s largest and most diverse Greenbelt, are estimated at close to $1 billion a year, according to a study released last week.
Lake Simcoe Basin’s Natural Capital: The Value of the Watershed’s Ecosystem Services, examines the goods and services provided by the watershed’s ecosystem. These include carbon storage, water quality, supply and filtration, flood control, waste treatment and clean air, all of which are top-of-mind concerns for Ontarians.
Other activities relying on the health of this watershed are tourism and recreation, clean drinking water and local agriculture, including the Holland Marsh. At a minimum, the total value of these services to Ontario is $975 million annually; over $2,780 for each of the 350,000 plus residents in the area.
“If the integrity of the watershed is not protected, what’s at stake is the additional cost of replacing the free benefits of these natural features,” said Mike Walters of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
The study follows hot on the heels of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act introduced by the provincial government on June 17. Currently, parts of the lake’s shoreline and watershed are located inside the provincially designated Greenbelt. The Greenbelt Act and plan, in concert with the proposed Lake Simcoe Protection Act and plan, provide mutually reinforcing support and can help protect the entire watershed.
The analysis, undertaken by consultant Sara Wilson and supported by the David Suzuki Foundation and the conservation authority, received funding from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. It found that services provided by the watershed’s forests and wetlands are the most highly valued assets with an estimated annual worth of $319 and $435 million respectively.
“By articulating environmental services in dollars and cents we begin to level the playing field between the economy and the environment, comparing apples to apples in order to make educated and balanced decisions,” said Burkhard Mausberg, president of the Greenbelt Foundation. “We all know nature is good, but how much do we think it is worth?”
Healthy growth means protecting key natural features given the value of the services they provide. The benefits of integrating the value of nature into decisionmaking include sustainable urban growth, balanced communities and increased health and quality of life for Ontarians, said Mausberg.
“There is an increasing sense of urgency around valuing ecosystem goods and services,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation. “This study is an important contribution to measuring the value of these services. This information can be used to improve land use and growth management decisions.”
Ontario’s Greenbelt is putting its natural capital into action, leading to better, safer, more renewable ways to grow, work and live. It is 1.8 million acres of protected land that wraps around the Golden Horseshoe and runs north to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. It encompasses the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park, about 7,000 farms and hundreds of rural towns and villages.