Human Activity and the Environment 2013: Measuring ecosystem goods and services in Canada presents information on the quantity, quality and value of Canada’s ecosystems and ecosystem goods and services (EGS). The report presents preliminary results achieved through a two-year interdepartmental project to develop experimental ecosystem accounts and the required statistical infrastructure. It provides an overview of ecosystem accounting and valuation, several measures of the quantity and quality of ecosystems and their goods and services, a case study for valuing EGS, and a research agenda for future work in this area.
Ecosystem goods and services (EGS) are fundamental to human activity. These tangible goods (e.g., fish, timber) and less tangible services (e.g., clean air, productive soil) are crucial to our lives and livelihoods, yet human activities can have impacts on the ecosystem structures and functions that produce them. Tracking the quantity, quality and value of EGS has never been more important.
In 2011, Statistics Canada received federal funding to develop experimental ecosystem accounts with the specific objective of supporting policy needs related to the valuation of EGS. The ensuing project, Measuring Ecosystems Goods and Services (MEGS), involved a unique partnership between Statistics Canada and Environment Canada—the project co-leads—as well as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada and Policy Horizons Canada. This report summarizes the findings of the project while investigating the quantity, quality and value of ecosystems and EGS in Canada.
Many of the findings presented in this report, particularly land cover and land cover change analyses, relied on the development of the MEGS geodatabase. This database, which reconciles numerous existing publicly-available spatial datasets, is a key component of the MEGS statistical infrastructure and will support accelerated research in this field. Associated with this work is the development of new ecosystem accounting concepts compatible with international initiatives such as the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA): Experimental Ecosystem Accounting, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES).
Land cover analysis is used as a starting point to study the quantity of ecosystems and their change over time. From 2001 to 2011, evergreen, deciduous and mixedwood forest areas across the country decreased from 3.1 million km2 to 3.0 million km2 (-4%), while shrubland increased from 2.4 million km2 to 2.5 million km2 (+4%). Built-up areas in and around cities and towns in southern Canada increased as a result of the transformation of cropland and forests. For example, from 2000 to 2011, 3,361 km2 were converted to built-up area in southern Canada.
A focus on the Greater Golden Horseshoe area—a 33,200 km2 area located to the west of Lake Ontario including the Greater Toronto Area—measures the decline of natural landscapes while populations increased. Population in the Greater Golden Horseshoe increased by 17% from 2001 to 2011. Settled areas, meanwhile, increased by 28% from 2000 to 2011.
The quality of ecosystems is explored through several innovative indicators reporting on human modifications to the landscape. The conversion of land from natural landscapes to agricultural land area and settled areas quantifies the impact that anthropogenic disturbances have had on natural landscapes. From 2001 to 2011, large shifts from natural landscapes to agricultural land occurred in the Upper South Saskatchewan (1,468 km2) and Thompson (973 km2) sub-drainage areas (SDAs). Settled area increased considerably from 2000 to 2011 in the Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula SDA, which includes Toronto, mostly at the expense of agricultural land. The analysis of the distribution and size of natural land parcels shows how much change has occurred due to increasing population and associated geographical barriers such as roads and transmission lines.
Ecosystem quality is further explored through a case study on the distribution of water purification potential in the boreal region. Lastly, biomass extraction is examined as a first step towards the development of indicators to explain whether human use of ecosystem goods is sustainable.
Valuation of EGS is approached from three different angles: first, market (monetary) valuation is explored through a case study of a marine and coastal ecosystem good—fish landings. This case study also includes the first ever delineation of the marine coastal fisheries ecumene of Canada.
Second, non-monetary valuation—valuation that uses complementary financial, social, cultural or physical measures—is explored through a study of wetlands in Canada, in which the various EGS provided by freshwater wetlands are analyzed. The report explains some of the limitations of current estimates of wetland area in Canada, and provides an innovative approach looking at supply and demand to improve the assessment of EGS. The analysis of wetland services such as streamflow regulation demonstrates the high demand for wetland services in Canada’s prairie region. For example, the Missouri, Souris and Western Lake Winnipeg SDAs in the southern Prairies had the highest water flow variability in the country. A case study of the Assiniboine-Red drainage region illustrates how the value of wetland EGS can be considered among the highest in Canada.
Third, non-market monetary valuation is explored in a case study of the Thousand Islands National Park that provides experimental estimates of the annual value of ecosystem services provided by the park. The study analyzed anthropogenic pressures, such as population and agricultural activities, as well as land cover for the Thousand Islands Ecosystem and for a 100 km buffer area around it. From 1981 to 2011, population increased by 32%, the number of farms decreased by 37% and the area of farmland decreased by 28% in the Thousand Islands Ecosystem. These trends were mirrored in the 100 km buffer area—population grew 47%, while the number of farms and the area of farmland decreased by 39% and 23% respectively. The annual value of EGS flows assessed for the park is estimated to be between $12.5 million and $14.7 million (2012 dollars). Using benefit transfer methods for the valuation of individual EGS, recreational services represent $3.9 million annually.
The report closes on a research agenda describing some of the key issues that require further investigation, including improvement of spatial datasets, EGS indicators, the characterization of EGS for marine and coastal ecosystems, monetary and non-monetary valuation of EGS flows, and the identification and classification of the stock of natural capital assets and associated flows that should be included in a complete set of national ecosystem accounts.
The following bullets list some of the main findings from the report:
Ecosystems and their goods and services at the national level
- From 2001 to 2011, evergreen, deciduous and mixedwood forest areas across the country decreased from 3.1 million km2 to 3.0 million km2 (-4%), while shrubland increased from 2.4 million km2 to 2.5 million km2 (+4%).
- From 2000 to 2011, 3,361 km2 were converted to built-up area in the southern part of the country.
- From 2000 to 2011, there was a 19% increase in the settled area occupying dependable (Class 1 to 3) agricultural land in Canada and a 29% increase on the very best Class 1 agricultural land.
Focus area: Greater Golden Horseshoe (Map 3.2)
- From 2000 to 2011, settled area in southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe region increased by 28% from 2,972 km2 to 3,807 km2.
- Overall, the loss of land area converted to settled area was split almost equally between agricultural and natural land, with more natural land converted outside the greenbelt and more agricultural land converted inside the greenbelt.
- The number of people living in the central settled area around Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton increased 6% from 2001 to 2011, but population increased by 57% in adjacent areas.
Human landscape modification
- Natural landscapes, for example forests, wetlands, barrenlands, grasslands and shrublands, are the dominant land cover type in most areas of the country, but certain sub-drainage areas (SDAs) in the Prairies, in southern Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River Valley in Quebec, as well as in Prince Edward Island, have a higher proportion of modified landscapes when compared to other SDAs.
- From 2001 to 2011, the largest changes in land cover occurred as agricultural land reverted to natural landscapes. In the Qu’Appelle, Assiniboine, Lower South Saskatchewan and Lower North Saskatchewan SDAs, a total of 10,475 km2 of agricultural land reverted to natural land cover.
- From 2001 to 2011, large shifts from natural landscapes to agricultural land occurred in the Upper South Saskatchewan (1,468 km2) and Thompson (973 km2) sub-drainage areas (SDAs).
- From 2000 to 2011, settled area increased considerably (627 km2) in the Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula SDA, which includes Toronto, mostly at the expense of agricultural land.
- SDAs in southern Ontario and the Prairies that had the largest human populations and the most agricultural activity had the smallest average natural land parcel sizes in 2011.
- The Qu’Appelle SDA in the Prairies had the farthest average distance to natural land parcels in 2011 at 1,295 m.
- SDAs with the highest population and barrier densities occurred in southern Ontario and along the St. Lawrence Valley in Quebec.
Ecosystem productivity—national biomass extraction
- In 2010, an estimated 285.8 million tonnes of biomass (agricultural crops, livestock and poultry, milk, maple products and honey, forestry and fisheries) were extracted for human use from Canada’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
- British Columbia accounts for the largest proportion of biomass extraction by weight, as a result of forestry activities.
- Biomass extraction related to agricultural activities was highest in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
- The Atlantic provinces account for the majority of biomass extraction from commercial fisheries.
Marine and coastal ecosystem goods and services
- In 2011, commercial fish landings on Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts totalled over 850,000 tonnes and were valued at $2.1 billion.
- In 2010, direct spending on recreational fishing trips by anglers was an estimated $2.5 billion; many of these expenditures can be attributed to EGS (e.g., fish, recreation).
- On the East coast, commercial fishing, aquaculture and seafood processing activities accounted for 14% of employment in coastal ecodistricts where such activities were found in 2006. On the West coast, the comparable figure was 4%.
Freshwater wetland ecosystem goods and services
- The high variability of water flows in the Missouri, Souris and Western Lake Winnipeg SDAs help demonstrate the demand for wetland services in Canada’s prairie region, since wetlands can help regulate streamflow.
- High turbidity levels, such as those seen for untreated surface waters supplying drinking water plants in the Prairies and St. Lawrence drainage regions in 2011, help demonstrate the demand for wetland services since wetlands help soil particles settle out of water.
- Prairie pothole wetlands in the Assiniboine-Red drainage region provide valuable habitat services.
Thousand Islands National Park case study (Map 4.1)
- Close to two million people lived within 100 km of the Thousand Islands Ecosystem in 2011, a 47% increase since 1981.
- From 1981 to 2011, the number of farms and the area of farmland decreased, by 39% and 23% respectively, within 100 km of the Thousand Islands Ecosystem. These trends were mirrored in the Thousand Islands Ecosystem, where the number of farms decreased by 37% and farm area decreased by 28%.
- Land cover for the Thousand Islands Ecosystem includes forest (31%), cropland and field (24%), water (22%), shrubland (11%), wetlands (7%) and built-up (6%).
- Land cover for the Thousand Islands National Park includes forest (82%), wetland (10%), shrubland (3%), built-up (2%), cropland and field (2%) and water (0.4%).
- The annual value of EGS flows assessed for the park is estimated to be between $12.5 million and $14.7 million (2012 dollars). The annual value of recreational services is estimated at $3.9 million (2012 dollars) using benefit transfer methods.