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A new method to estimate species and biodiversity intactness using empirically derived reference conditions
S.E. Nielsen, E.M. Bayne, J. Schieck, J. Herbers, and S. Boutin
Critical to the conservation of biodiversity is knowledge of status and trends of species. To that end, monitoring programmes have reported on the state of biodiversity using reference conditions as comparison. Little consensus exists on how reference conditions are defined and how such information is used to index intactness. Most use protected areas or an arbitrary year as reference. This is problematic since protected areas are often spatially biased, while arbitrarily defined reference years are often not sufficiently distant in time. Biological Conservation 137 (2007)
Integrated Landscape Management Tools for Sustainable Development Policy Making
Policy Research Initiative
Sustainable Development Briefing Note
Regional Strategic Environmental Assessment in Canada: Principles and Guidance
Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment
Ecological Infrastructure Mapping - Southern Alberta Region
02 Planning + Design Inc.
An assessment of ecosystem goods and services (EGS) in southern Alberta was initiated in 2006 by Alberta Environment. Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life (Daily 1997). The current study builds on the first two project phases by expanding the discussion of landscape patterns required to sustain the provision of ecosystem goods and services based on an identification of ecological infrastructure in the Southern Alberta region. Ecological infrastructure refers to the core features of a network that provides ecosystem services (Tzoulas et al. 2007): in this case, in the Southern Alberta region. At a regional scale, it includes the system of structural and functional terrestrial and aquatic landscape features such as clean water and habitat (Quinn, unpublished work, 2007). Components of ecological infrastructure chosen for mapping in the scope and scale of the current project include: 1. Stream corridors 2. Natural vegetation patches and stepping stones 3. Waterbody complexes 4. Areas of high species richness potential 5. Alluvial soils 6. Unique land cover types or areas GIS models were created in ArcGIS 9.2 to support the identification and mapping of ecological infrastructure components. The stream corridors map showed a high density of stream corridors in the forested landscapes to the west and southeast; very few corridors exist in the central Southern Alberta region. The largest patches of natural vegetation over 10 000 ha in size are located in the southeast and northeast. The central part of Southern Alberta has few large patches of natural vegetation, and those that remain in this area will be regionally valuable. The greatest concentration of waterbody complexes is in the northeast portion of Southern Alberta, which has a number of small complexes of standing water. When the top five classes (highest 50%) of species rich areas were selected, grasslands, forests, riparian areas and wetland cover types were picked out. Alluvial soils were found to be concentrated near the base of the Rocky Mountains along the western border of Southern Alberta. Unique land cover types including ridges and low percentage cover types were mapped, but ridges were difficult to analyze at this scale. A combined map of all ecological infrastructure components was created in which each pixel was assigned a sum value of each ecological infrastructure component it included. The high value of several landscape units to overall regional ecological infrastructure was evident. To identify the areas of coincidence between ecological infrastructure and a spatial representation of ecosystem services in the region, the ecological infrastructure was analyzed against a map representing areas with high importance to the provision of ecosystem services. O2 Planning + Design Inc. – DRAFT ii The ecological infrastructure was found to encompass 99.6% of all areas identified as high ecosystem service provision. In terms of the condition of ecosystem services, those areas of high service provision that are coincident with ecological infrastructure are most likely to be in good condition through landscape connections and within large natural patches that promote functioning ecological processes. For future application, each component of ecological infrastructure can be mapped on smaller scales, depending on the desired objectives. These processes and models can therefore support informed land use planning in the region.
Ecosystem Goods and Services Southern Alberta: A Framework for Assessing Natural Asset Condition
02 Planning + Design Inc.
Society’s well-being, to a large extent, is underpinned by a wide range of Ecosystem Goods and Services (EGS) that are provided by natural assets. These include: provision of clean air and water;-- water storage and flood control;-- carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas regulation;-- pollination of crops and native vegetation; and-- the fulfillment of cultural, spiritual, and recreational needs.-- The transfer of EGS to future generations is compromised if land use planning does not prevent the degradation and loss of natural assets in the landscape. Alberta’s new Land Use Framework (LUF) provides opportunities to address interactions between society, nature, and EGS to promote sustainable development. The ecosystem services concept frames land use planning and natural resource management issues to explicitly link ecosystems and human welfare. This provides decision makers with more information to help them achieve an appropriate balance between the many costs and benefits of land use decision-making. Building on previous work, this report contributes to this process by identifying indicators of natural asset conditions, linking these indicators to ecosystem services, and suggesting a methodology for assessment in a land use planning context. Several key findings should be highlighted from the literature review. One prevalent theme suggests that focusing management efforts on provisioning services (i.e., crops, timber, fossil fuels) often results in tradeoffs where other ecosystem services are degraded as a consequence. Another key theme is the importance of multi-scale approaches to ecosystem service assessments (e.g., regional, landscape, watershed, site). A third key finding is the lack of available biophysical methodologies to quantify ecosystem service magnitudes, as most quantification studies utilize economic valuation techniques. In addition, appropriate thresholds and targets are rarely identified through scientific research, although some science-based targets have been identified for wetland cover (3% to 7% of a watershed), impervious surfaces (<10% of a watershed), riparian buffer widths, and road densities. In most cases, target-setting requires integration of science and societal valuation. The landscape context also must be considered when setting targets, as appropriate values often vary considerably throughout a given region. Building on the information gained from the literature review, this report identifies a suite of indicators to assess ecosystem conditions and related services at multiple scales. Six criteria were used to assess the suitability of indicators: comprehensibility for both professionals and the lay public; -- range of applicability to multiple ecosystem services;-- responsiveness to management practices; -- measurability of cost effectiveness; -- ease of integration with existing programs and data; and, -- relevance within land use planning (predictable in scenario modelling --and related to published scientific thresholds).
Ecosystem Services Approach Pilot on Wetlands Project Overview 2011
The Ecosystem Services1 pilot is part of the longer term Ecosystem Services Roadmap intended as a tool under the Cumulative Effects Management Framework to help inform trade-off decisions and assure more robust decision-making. The Ecosystem Services pilot team was mandated to demonstrate the use and replicability of the ecosystem services to support department priorities. Using an ecosystem services (ES) approach2 is an opportunity for decision-makers to recognize previously unseen benefits as well as mitigate some unforeseen impacts stemming from development choices. By examining the environment through a framework of ecosystem services, decision-makers will have a more complete picture of the social, economic and environmental consequences, values and perspectives of development, and conservation activities on the landscape.
Ecosystem Services Approach Pilot on Wetlands Integrated Assessment Report
Dr. Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Geneva Claesson and Gillian Kerr
Ecosystem services (‘ES’) are the benefits that nature provides to people. Some ES benefits, such as crops, are familiar and tangible; however, other ES, such as water filtration and carbon storage, are hard to observe and are underestimated or unaddressed in decision making. Ecosystems provide innumerable services that are underrepresented or absent in most economic development decisions; however, these services contribute to development objectives (e.g., scenic quality of the land) and to realizing quality of life goals. Identifying and understanding many of the services from wetlands can provide more information to decision makers, which may help to prevent unintended consequences from development decisions. Wetlands, and the regulatory approvals process for residential subdivision development in southern Alberta, were the focus for the ES pilot. Wetlands are an integral component of Alberta’s diverse landscapes and provide a wide variety of ES. For example, if managed properly, wetlands can provide water filtration and groundwater recharge, contribute to flood prevention, and provide habitat for numerous species of interest to naturalists and hunters alike. Many wetlands also have important socio-cultural value because they provide recreational, heritage and scientific/educational opportunities. As improvements are made in describing and valuing the benefits of ES, decision makers can better understand how their decisions might change (positively or negatively) the condition, quality and/or quantity of ES that could have an impact the well-being and quality of life of Albertans, and the businesses that operate in the province. The outcome for the pilot was established as the following: “the development and operationalization of an ES approach to provide a tool to enhance decision making”. The ES approach developed for the Alberta context provides a framework to help identify and quantify - qualitatively, quantitatively and monetarily - the benefits provided by wetland ecosystems. In addition to the outcome, two objectives were established by the project steering committee, with a third captured from the ES pilot project charter: • Test and demonstrate how an ES approach can be used to support decision making by explicitly demonstrating the trade-offs between development and ES benefits provided by wetlands; • Support wetland management in the province by providing additional information to support potential compensation decisions related to land-use development; and • Identify information and capacity gaps for ES assessment to support future ES work. Meeting these objectives involved conducting various assessments on wetland ES to address gaps identified by wetland approval managers at Alberta Environment, the City of Calgary and Rocky View County (a.k.a., the ‘decision makers’) in their application of the wetland approvals process and the wetland mitigation hierarchy (which includes compensation). The decision makers helped the ES pilot team to identify, frame and prioritize key gaps in the wetlands approval process to focus the pilot assessment work. The following represent the refined gaps that were used to design the project: 1. There is insufficient evidence to support avoidance, minimization and compensation decisions on wetlands. 2. There is insufficient consideration of cumulative effects and long-term consequences of decision making. 3. There is limited ability to communicate the ‘values’ of wetlands. The pilot focused on an area covering 274 square kilometres encompassing an eastern portion of the City of Calgary, an area of Rocky View County and the Town of Chestermere. The area was chosen because of the large number of wetlands and current land use pressures where residential development is having an impact on the ES that are supplied by the landscape. The case study area features (6,400+) wetlands ranging in size from less than 0.1 hectare to over 10 hectares. However, while the number of wetlands has increased 18 per cent since 1962, wetland area has decreased by 24 per cent. This translates into a total loss of 7.7 square kilometres of wetlands between 1962 and 2005. Nested in the South Saskatchewan Region, historic landscape change in the region and the case study area has been primarily driven by population growth and agricultural expansion. More recently, urban expansion has led to new changes on the landscape, including an increased percentage of impervious surfaces, stormwater pond creation and new microclimactic conditions. Through a series of working sessions, the ES pilot chose three ES as being the top priority for greater understanding: water storage/supply, flood control and water purification/quality. These ES were chosen for in-depth assessment along with carbon storage, which was included because carbon storage opportunities feature importantly as part of the provincial Climate Change Strategy and related regulations. Additional ES (e.g., pollination, cultural ES) were described and investigated in terms of their contributions to local society, but their condition (e.g., quality, quantity and distribution) was not assessed in detail across the entire study area. The ES pilot engaged a broad selection of stakeholders, including ES beneficiaries, in the pilot. They identified cultural ES as high priorities for management in survey responses and workshop discussions. In particular, aesthetic enjoyment and science and education opportunities were identified as ‘high value’ benefits provided by wetlands. Biodiversity was also identified by multiple stakeholders as being of high importance, however, biodiversity is considered to be a necessary underlying condition for the production of ES but not an ES itself. The information generated by the ES pilot provides a baseline of knowledge about wetland ES in the study area that decision makers can apply in wetland approvals decisions. Highlights from the assessment results include: • ES benefits are context specific, as they relate as much to how the environment is used and valued as to how services are produced by ecological processes. There are a number of beneficiaries of different ES at different scales. • The total water storage capacity of all wetlands in the study area was estimated to be 36.3 million cubic metres. This represents a volume of water greater than the combined total storage capacity of the Glenmore Reservoir and Lake Chestermere. • In the fall of 2007 and 2009, seasonal and dry annual conditions resulted in an estimated total wetland volume of 14.3 million cubic metres or 39.4 percent of total water storage capacity. • An analysis of water storage capacity by Stewart & Kantrud (S&K) wetland class showed that because there is a large number of wetlands that are Class I or II, their contribution to water storage on the landscape is substantial, even if individually they hold less water than Class III-V wetlands. • The estimated total storage capacity lost due to wetland drainage between 1965 and the present is 9.2 million cubic metres. This represents a 20 per cent decrease in available water storage capacity in the study area. • All wetlands in the case study area contribute to flood control. There were no clear trends found for flood control values across either S&K or size classes, suggesting that high or low flood control depends more on landscape context than on class or size of wetlands. • The cost of replacing natural wetlands with built infrastructure was estimated from the total area of engineered wetlands that would be required to provide the same flood control services that are currently supplied by natural wetlands. A replacement cost of all wetlands was estimated at about $338 million. This corresponds to an estimated $2 million per year in economic losses when the historic rate of wetland area loss is applied. • The estimated cost of restoring all wetlands on the landscape would be $43 million. This corresponds to an estimated $257,250 per year in restoration costs if the historic rate of wetland loss is applied (0.6 per cent between 1960’s and 2005). • The majority (87 per cent) of wetland complexes within Shepard Slough have a medium to high capacity to purify water, estimated using a water purification model. • The estimated loss of soil organic carbon between 1962 and 2005 is 44,144 Milligram (Mg) (89 Mg hectares-1). This is equivalent to an emission of 161,832 Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2 e). • Applying the provincially relevant Alberta Tech Fund value of $15 /tonne of Carbon Dioxide equivalent, the economic value of carbon storage in the case study area would amount to $16.7 million. • Recreation survey results showed the potential value for recreation from wetlands in the study area to be approximately $4,390,000 per year. This result is based on an estimate of 114,685 wetland visitors each year, each spending $38.28 for a day trip. • Results of a hedonic pricing valuation identified a clear relationship between property value and distance/adjacency to wetlands. If the property is adjacent to a wetland, the value of the house increases by $4,390 - $5,136. Ecosystems Services Approach Pilot for Wetlands – Final Version October 2011 8 The results from the assessment allowed the ES pilot to address the gaps in the wetland approvals process. For example, the pilot identified that many of the ES provided by wetlands are currently excluded in current requirements for municipal Biophysical Impact Assessments and Wetland Impact Assessments and as such, multiple ES are absent from decision making. In addition, wetlands provide multiple ES simultaneously, which is important when considering avoidance or compensation options for wetlands. Importantly, the ES pilot demonstrated that although a wetland is degraded, it could be high functioning and provide a number of ES and benefits. This information could inform trade-offs and also help to highlight ‘hot spot’ areas to avoid in the planning process. A rapid assessment site-level tool tested in the pilot provided immediate benefits for the wetland approval process. It offers a tool for decision makers, complementary to the pilot’s ES approach, to develop information about the ES provided by individual wetlands. It can provide objective information on the values and functions of small and temporary wetlands that are often dismissed as unimportant when compared to large and visually appealing wetlands with permanent open water zones. The tool, Wetland Ecosystem Services Protocol for the United States (WESPUS), requires modification for the Alberta-context, however it provides an opportunity to shape the process of avoidance, mitigation and compensation in a manner that may better reflect public values associated with wetlands. If a wetland approval writer does not select avoidance or minimization, approval writers could use this tool to determine appropriate compensation and restoration requirements. The ES pilot allowed the decision makers to explore information on the cumulative effects of wetland loss and potential consequences of long term decision making. For example, the loss of wetlands in the case study area over the past 50 years has led to a substantial cumulative loss of multiple ES including flood control, water purification/ filtration and water storage. In particular, areas that have historically seen large losses in water storage are more likely to also experience changes in soil moisture, microclimate, flood control and other ES because water storage is fundamental to the delivery of other ES benefits. An important contribution of the ES pilot was the ability to demonstrate multiple ‘values’ of wetlands in the case study area. For example, the results demonstrated that all classes of wetlands in the case study area contribute benefits, regardless of size and magnitude of current degradation. Even small wetlands provide essential services such as water purification and flood control, sometimes in conjunction with adjacent and connected wetlands. To complement typical aquatic environment and hydrology information used by decision makers, the pilot incorporated socio-cultural information on how people value different ES in the study area. Information about local people’s perceptions of why wetlands are important can directly inform wetland approval decisions, as this is new information about the value of wetlands to society. Studies conducted for the pilot demonstrate that even the most abstract cultural benefits (e.g., heritage benefits) are consistently rated as of ‘high’ or ‘medium’ importance to people. The pilot demonstrated that an ES approach can provide a systematic way to assess ES benefits and impacts, and explore the trade-offs associated with development decisions that incorporate more than typical environmental and/or economic information. Given the novelty of the assessments activities, a number of recommendations have emerged to further advance the ES road map: • There is a strong need to examine how the local and regional assessment tools applied can be streamlined to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness. Many assessment activities occurred in isolation, and while the pilot team made efforts to integrate activities and align results, it is recognized that the pilot fell short of the intention to conduct a holistic and integrated ES assessment. Improved integration during the design phase can improve project delivery, communications and the final products, which can reduce costs. • The data, information and resources needed to complete ES assessments, particularly the biophysical assessment, was significant. It will be important to assess what scale and level of importance a policy or plan is to warrant the monetary and staff costs of doing an ES assessment. • The uptake of WESPUS is a ‘low hanging fruit’ to integrate ES into the wetland approvals process and other Government of Alberta activities as other ES assessment methodologies mature. With thirty-years of testing and refinement already, the WESPUS approach requires minor modifications for the Alberta context. Given the popularity of WESPUS, it will be essential to build on the momentum generated in this pilot. The concept of ES is still in its infancy, but has been recognized globally as a useful tool for communicating the value of sustainable landscape management to support development and the long-term well-being of people. Ecosystem Services are becoming increasingly important for governments and business leaders to address in decision making. The Government of Alberta took a leadership role in advancing the ES road map and completing a pilot project to explore the incorporation of ES into an actual policy gap identified by municipal and government wetland approvals writers. This report represents the Integrated Results from the ES assessments and provides key findings and uses for the information generated. The ES pilot reports make up the platform from which to move forward on a number of opportunities to further improve understanding of ES, build capacity to assess ES, and provide more complete information to decision makers to improve the outcomes of their decisions.
Ecosystem Services Approach Pilot on Wetlands An Exploration of Approaches to Understand Cultural Services and Benefits to Ecosystem Service Assessments
Courtney Hughes, Glenn Brown, Cory Habulin, Gillian Kerr, Krista Tremblett
This report summarizes the socio-cultural studies completed during the ES Pilot. There are a number of complementary deliverables prepared for the ES Pilot including: an Integrated Assessment Report that summarizes the results for a technical audience, an ES Approach Report that focuses on methods and process, a Project Evaluation Report, a Summary Report for Decision makers and a Summary Report for a general audience. In addition there are a number of technical reports including: reports for various components of the biophysical assessment, and a socio-economic report. As such, a detailed overview of the methods used is not included in this report. The combined deliverables for the ES Pilot together provide all the key elements for understanding the results, the methods, project evaluation and the learning’s from the Ecosystem Services Approach Pilot on Wetlands that can support future work on ES in Alberta and internationally. The socio-cultural work completed does not necessarily capture all potential cultural services and/or benefits that may be associated with the wetland under investigation or wetlands across Alberta. While attempts were made to be comprehensive in the selection of cultural services and benefits to investigate, as well as methods selected and analysis undertaken, there may be other cultural services or benefits, or other conceptualizations of these services and benefits, relevant to the study site. As such, further inquiries are likely necessary and would likely prove beneficial to an increasing understanding about cultural services and benefits related to wetlands in Alberta.
Water Quality Study of Waiparous Creek, Fallentimber Creek and Ghost River
Increased usage of the Ghost -Waiparous basin for random camping and off-highway vehicles (OHVs) has raised concerns among stakeholders that these activities are affecting water quality in the Ghost, Waiparous and Fallentimber Rivers. This report to Alberta Environment attempts to determine whether there is a linkage between these activities and water quality in these three rivers and documents baseline water quality prior to the implementation of an access management plan by the Alberta Government.
Ecosystem Service Approach Pilot on Wetlands: Assessment of Current and Historic Wetland Carbon Stores in the Sheppard Slough Area
Ducks Unlimited Canada
This report focuses on assessing the carbon storage associated with class 3 (seasonal), class 4 (semi-permanent), and class 5 (permanent) wetlands in the Sheppard Slough Drainage Catchment. The specific goals of this assessment were to: 1. Determine the stock of carbon contained in existing wetlands within the Sheppard Slough Study Area, and to; 2. Estimate the amount of carbon dioxide re-emitted to the atmosphere as a result of wetland loss between 1962 and 2005 in the Sheppard Slough Study Area.