Section 4: Thousand Islands National Park case study

The Thousand Islands National Park, located within the larger Thousand Islands Ecosystem in Eastern Ontario (Map 4.1), was selected as a case study for valuing ecosystem goods and services (EGS). The case study brings together some of the concepts presented in previous sections, showing how ecosystem accounting can be used. The park, established in 1904, is one of the smallest national parks in Canada at 22.3 km21  and faces many pressures affecting the state of its environment. 2 

Protected areas help prevent degradation of ecosystems and EGS, and can also increase the value of EGS provided by these sites. 3  The Thousand Islands National Park, like all parks in Canada, provides many benefits and is highly valued by Canadians. 4 , 5 

For the case study, pressures on the landscape were identified, land cover for the national park and surrounding ecosystem were analysed, and two methods to estimate monetary values for ecosystem service flows from the national park were applied. For more information about the case study area, methodology and limitations, see Appendix G.

The Thousand Islands National Park was created primarily as a place for recreation, including picnicking, camping and boating. 6  Since the 1980s, awareness has grown that the Thousand Islands area represents a unique and important Canada-U.S. transboundary ecosystem and attention has been directed towards environmental protection. The ecosystem is situated on an extension of the Canadian Shield, at the centre of an important wildlife habitat area ranging from Algonquin Park in Ontario to Adirondack Park in New York State (known as the ‘A2A’ region) and provides habitat for more than 30 species at risk due to loss of habitat because of human activity and natural changes.

Some of the major threats to the park’s ecological integrity include pressures associated with visitors in the park, habitat fragmentation and loss, introduction of exotic species and pollution. 7  Although 10 km2 of ecologically significant land were added in 2005, the park itself is relatively small and fragmented and does not fully represent the ecosystem of the greater Thousand Islands area to which it belongs.

Parks Canada is working to integrate two objectives: providing recreational opportunities for Canadians while preserving and protecting the fragile resources of the park. 8  However, protecting the park’s ecological integrity must be pursued on a scale larger than the park itself since environmental stressors come both from within and outside the park boundaries. 9 , 10  Community engagement is important since the majority of property in the area is privately owned and managed. 11  The Aboriginal community and Parks Canada have participated in joint work related to the protection of the National Park.

Pressures on the Thousand Islands National Park

The Thousand Islands National Park is influenced by human activity that occurs within the park and by development pressures from population growth, agriculture and other activities that have impacts on the surrounding landscape (Maps 4.2 to 4.8). Protected areas, which help buffer communities from environmental risks, 12  covered 564 km2 (1.7%) of the landscape within 100 km of the Thousand Islands Ecosystem in 2012. 13 , 14 

In 2011, close to two million people lived within 100 km of the Thousand Islands Ecosystem, 15  a 47% increase from 1981 (Table 4.1). The population density was 59 persons/km2 in 2011, compared to 49 persons/km2 for the Thousand Islands Ecosystem itself. The population density was 272 persons/km2 in the nearby Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula-02H sub-drainage area (SDA) and 148 persons/km2 in the Central St. Lawrence-02O SDA (Table 1, Appendix C).

In 2011, the Thousand Islands Ecosystem buffer area, most of which drains towards the St. Lawrence River, supported over 9,100 farms. However, the number of farms and the area of farmland decreased by 39% and 23% respectively, from 1981 to 2011. Similar trends occurred in the Thousand Islands Ecosystem, where the number of farms decreased by 37% and farm area decreased by 28%.

The number of cattle also decreased from 1981 to 2011 in both the Thousand Islands Ecosystem and the buffer area (-47%). Cropland remained relatively stable in the buffer area (-1%), but decreased 11% in the Thousand Islands Ecosystem. Other farm activity measures, including area sprayed with herbicides and insecticides increased in both areas, while area fertilized remained stable in the buffer area but decreased 30% in the Thousand Islands Ecosystem.

Land cover of the Thousand Islands Ecosystem

To help estimate the value of EGS provided by the Thousand Islands National Park, land cover assets were analyzed through the use of satellite imagery (Map 4.9, Chart 4.1). Land cover for both the National Park and the Thousand Islands Ecosystem were compared (Table 4.2).

Forest (31%), cropland and field (24%) and water (22%) were the most prevalent land covers for the Thousand Islands Ecosystem; wetlands and built-up areas covered 7% and 6% of the area respectively. The Thousand Islands National Park has a larger proportion of its area in forest (82%) and wetland (10%) and lower proportion in cropland and field (2%) and built-up areas (2%) compared to the larger ecosystem area.

Monetary valuation of ecosystem goods and services in Thousand Islands National Park

Estimating monetary values for the EGS provided by the Thousand Islands National Park can be useful for a variety of reasons, such as providing information about conservation and restoration needs, supporting policy and decision-making and raising public awareness about the contributions this protected area makes to human well-being. The case study was also initiated to evaluate the impact of data quality on the production of monetary values, which would feed into an ecosystem account structure as proposed by the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA): Experimental Ecosystem Accounting. Two examples illustrate how monetary values can be estimated for the ecosystem services of the park area.

In the first example, the overall value of several ecosystem services provided by the park is estimated using existing monetary values of EGS taken from a report for southern Ontario. 16  The second example estimates monetary values of a few selected ecosystem services by land cover type, making use of published valuation studies and applying (transferring) monetary values found to similar areas within the Thousand Islands National Park in a process called benefit transfer. These experimental estimates show how this type of approach can be used to assess monetary values for EGS in a case study context. See Textbox 3 for more information on benefit transfer valuation and Appendix G for more information about the case study methodologies.

Textbox 3: Benefit transfer valuation methods

Estimating EGS values can be very time consuming and costly to carry out, which is why methods have been devised to transfer existing valuation work from previously studied sites to new areas, known as policy sites. This technique is generally referred to as ‘benefit transfer’ or ‘value transfer.’

There are two main approaches to benefit transfer:

  1. ‘Unit value transfer’ transfers a monetary value from a study site to a new site (e.g., $ per hectare or $ per beneficiary). Unit values are often adjusted to reflect biophysical or socio-economic differences between the two sites.
  2. ‘Function value transfer’ is a more complex method that uses regression methods to relate the value of EGS with biophysical and socio-economic characteristics from a study site to estimate the value of EGS for a second site with known biophysical and socio-economic characteristics. This approach can be based on results from a single study or a number of studies. For example, in the case of meta-analysis transfer, data is consolidated from a large number of studies.

Studies show that both methods are subject to uncertainty and various errors. For example, tests have shown that unit value transfer errors are often in the range of ±40% or more. 17 However, errors can be reduced by ensuring study and policy sites share similar characteristics. 18 , 19 

Valuation of ecosystem goods and services by land cover type

The Thousand Islands National Park area provides a wide variety of services to people in and around the park. For example, wetland areas help to filter sediments and sustain water flows for plants, animals and human populations. Forests provide habitats for wildlife and supply opportunities for recreation, tourism and human well-being.

These EGS provide a wide range of benefits that can be estimated through monetary valuation. This assessment applies monetary values of EGS flows per hectare of land taken from an existing report for southern Ontario 20  and aggregates the value of these EGS by land cover type. 21  The assessment covers the following EGS: atmospheric regulation; water quality, nutrient and waste regulation; water supply regulation; soil retention and erosion control; habitat and biodiversity; pollination and dispersal services; disturbance avoidance; recreation; aesthetic and amenity; and other cultural services. 22 

Using this experimental approach, estimates of the annual value of EGS for the Thousand Islands National Park were produced, ranging from $12.5 million to $14.7 million for 2012, depending on the satellite data resolution and classification accuracy (Table 4.3). Of the available land cover compilations that would also permit future analysis of parks in other areas of the country, Parks Canada LANDSAT-TM provided the finest resolution land cover information, one that was better suited to this regional study. Using this data source, forests and wetlands provided the highest contributions to the EGS values estimated for this site at 70% and 28% respectively. However, using the Troy and Bagstad source data, 50% of the value of EGS is attributed to forest cover, 45% to wetland and 5% to water. These values represent an estimate of the flows of EGS from the Thousand Islands National Park for the year and do not represent the total value of the national park or its land area.

The data source used to identify land cover statistics has an impact on the monetary valuations of EGS estimated for the Thousand Islands National Park. The available image resolution and land cover classification must be evaluated before selecting the best-suited data source for valuation exercises.

Valuation of individual ecosystem goods and services by land cover type

Selected ecosystem services values were estimated, specifically, the value of the park’s recreation services as well as option, bequest and existence values associated with the park’s wetland areas, which make up 10% of the park area.

Applying benefit transfer concepts, annual recreational services for all land cover types present in the national park were valued at $3.9 million (2012 dollars), while annual option, bequest and existence values of the park’s wetland area ranged from approximately $434,000 to $530,800 (2012 dollars). 23 

These values are of significance to park managers—they help illustrate the benefits the park provides to visitors and also to those who simply benefit from knowing the park exists. While this experimental valuation effort focused on only a few of the EGS types provided by the park, it shows that the park has value that can be expressed in monetary terms, beyond the monies collected at the park gate.

It is important to note that EGS values can be represented through non-monetary techniques as well. For example, the value of a park area can be put in context with information about the number and characteristics of the people living nearby, without putting an actual dollar figure on the EGS.

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