New cost-benefit model will aid efforts to conserve wilderness: UBC researcher

A new conservation model that measures the value of ecosystem services benefiting humans ranging from flood control to crop pollination can foster more win-win solutions between wilderness advocates and landowners, according to University of British Columbia researcher Kai Chan.

"Efforts to save wildlife often play out within a win-lose framework that pits conservation against economic opportunity," says Asst. Prof. Chan, who came from Stanford University to teach at UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. "But this framework overlooks the fact that ecosystems also provide great benefits to people, in the form of ecosystem services."

[Chan's study will be featured at the Oct. 31 launch of The Natural Capital Project in Washington, D.C. See details at end of release].

Chan is the lead investigator and only Canadian author of Conservation Planning for Ecosystem Services. The study quantified six ecosystem services: carbon storage; flood control; forage (grazing) production; outdoor recreation; crop pollination; and water provision in the California Central Coast an ecoregion that stretches from Santa Barbara to north of San Francisco.

"My research analyzes the value of ecosystem services and looks at the overlap between conserving these services and protecting biodiversity priorities," explains Chan. "This will help maximize the impact of scarce conservation dollars, allowing diverse partners to build common ground."

Chan's co-authors include Rebecca Shaw, Director of Conservation, Science and Planning at the Nature Conservancy in California, and Gretchen Daily, a professor at Stanford University's Department of Biological Sciences. The study will be published Oct. 31 in the Public Library of Science Biology journal and can be found at: http://www.plos.org/press/plbi-04-11-chan.pdf

"By the time that hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. coast," says Chan, "Louisiana had lost 405,000 hectares of wetlands. The flooding that resulted offers a bitter lesson on the value of wetlands for flood protection. Governments and industry are realizing that wetlands restoration will be key to economic recovery in the area."

Using conservation planning software, the researchers mapped terrestrial biodiversity and six ecosystem services across the region, and estimated how much each parcel of land contributes to each service.

They found, for example, that some of California's mountain regions with wet forests have high values for carbon storage, water provision and recreation, while an agricultural plain like the Salinas Valley provides valuable crop pollination and flood control.

They cross-referenced these service networks with biodiversity priorities and found that "impressive supplies of ecosystem services" would be protected alongside biodiversity, safeguarding a rich variety of species of flora and fauna especially those under threat.

"The management of both land- and seascapes will produce far greater benefits for people when we analyze ecosystem services in a systematic fashion," says Chan.

Chan will be highlighting his study in Washington, D.C., at the Oct. 31 launch of The Natural Capital Project, a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and Stanford University. The Natural Capital Project aims to foster cost-benefit analyses of ecosystem services in land use and resource decisions taking place worldwide, starting with areas of Africa, China, Hawaii and California. For more information, visit: http://environment.stanford.edu/ideas/ncp.html

Applying this research model to Canada, Chan is currently studying ecosystem services in British Columbia, developing a major collaborative project with government and non-profit partners focusing on marine services.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson