“Basically, it’s really a conversation starter,” says Patricia Heintzman, spokeswoman for the Squamish River Watershed Society
A recent report valued the Squamish Estuary between $ 8.6 million and $ 12.6 million for its natural resources and ecological services.
The Natural Capital Assets Assessment was commissioned by the Squamish River Watershed Society and supported by the Squamish Nation, the Healthy Waters Initiative, and the Fish And Wildlife Compensation Program.
“In essence, it really is a conversation starter,” said Patricia Heintzman, spokeswoman for the Squamish River Watershed Society. “This is basically a way to talk about the value of nature, the value of biodiversity.”
The report seeks to give monetary value to 11 different categories of the estuary: disturbance regulation, habitat, recreation and tourism, education, clean water, indigenous environmental values, fisheries, carbon sequestration, carbon storage, waste treatment and nutrient cycling.
The three main categories include disturbance management, waste treatment, and fisheries, which are valued at $ 4.9 million, $ 3.3 million, and $ 3.1 million, accounting for about 89% of the total estimated. Both the habitat and indigenous environmental values did not have established assessment methods, according to the report.
Despite the imperfect evaluation methods, the Squamish Nation welcomed the report.
“The Squamish Nation applauds the report and its recommendations that seek to instill rightful natural and economic values in Skwelwil’em (Squamish Estuary),” said Syeta’xtn (Chris) Lewis, spokesman and councilor for Squamish Nation, in a E-mail statement to the boss.
“The estuary’s services, values, and wealth have always been known and cherished by the people of the Squamish Nation… Having a history that has not seen or appreciated the estuary’s natural services, hopefully we are welcoming an era in which we are they recognize and reconcile natural values and no longer take them for granted. ”
After these top three categories, leisure and tourism ranked second, valued between $ 351,000 and $ 457,000.
In this category in particular, the report said it contained no wind sports value as “no formal economic, social or environmental impact assessments have been carried out by the Squamish Watersport Society (SWS)”.
Therefore, the report states that the value of the activities in relation to the costs remains unclear.
The Squamish Windsports Society has not commissioned a specific study on the economic impact of windsports, but President Nikki Layton referred The Chief to the tourism impact study completed in 2020 by the District of Squamish and Tourism Vancouver.
“Based on these estimates, we calculate that the wind sports community contributes $ 3.5 million annually to the Squamish economy, with significant growth potential,” she said.
The association has 881 members who make a total of 6,500 visits per season, which lasts from May to September.
The organization estimates visits from non-local members at $ 706,335 per year.
“Then there are the people who come to Squamish to see the wind sports, go to spit and take photos every day of the season, take in the views of Chief and Shannon Falls while getting the thrill of the action. A conservative estimate of the number of Spit viewers per day is 20, if we multiply that by the number of days in the season (123) and Squamish’s average spend per visitor ($ 155), that’s another $ 381,300 Tourism spending as a result of wind sports in Squamish.
“The Spit has also hosted national events that attract spectators and attendees from around the world. I have no financial impact data, but they attract significant numbers of people ahead of and during the event.” Conservatively, these likely add up to an additional $ 50,000 in tourism spending, “she said.
David Suzuki Foundation perspective
The Squamish Estuary Report values were based on a David Suzuki Foundation report by Michelle Molnar, who surveyed natural resources and environmental services across Howe Sound in 2015. This report stated that the Squamish Estuary accounts for approximately 96% of the estuary habitat in Howe Sound. For this reason, the Natural Capital Assets Assessment has brought its values closer to 96% of the foundation’s estimated values.
But apart from being a conversation starter, why should one attach monetary value to natural goods and ecological services?
“We’re trying to create systems in which people make better, more informed decisions about how people interact with nature,” said Jay Ritchlin, who works as director general for Western Canada for the David Suzuki Foundation.
“The situation we have right now is that a natural space, like an estuary, has an assumed value of zero unless it produces something that you sell in the market.”
So if one gives value to ecological services, it is easier, says Ritchlin, to compare how development can affect a natural area. For example, he said that while development would generate taxpayers’ money, some of that taxpayer money would have to go back into storm sewer construction, water filtration and land relocation to mitigate flooding.
“All of these things were done by nature, so you can find out how much it will cost us in both concrete and steel and city workers to build and maintain all these different services.”
However, appreciating nature and its services carries some risks.
One of those risks is that it might be easier for a developer to look at a valuable habitat and appreciate its development, Ritchlin said, but that wouldn’t use the estimated values correctly.
“We have to be very careful that people do not treat the services of nature as they would treat a capital such as a building. You can’t sell it and get money for it. You don’t turn it into a fungible asset, something that you can turn into cash in a jiffy. But you get information that you can use to make better decisions. “
Additionally, Ritchlin said that some parts of the environment are more difficult to quantify than others, which is why there is a range of estimated values rather than a “magic” number.
Heintzman said appreciating the environment is still ongoing and cannot fully appreciate the value that is on the table.
“Biodiversity is probably the one important non-quantifiable thing in the entire assessment process that is likely to offer the greatest value. But we have not yet found a way to actually understand, communicate and evaluate this value, ”said Heintzman
“It’s like the tip of the iceberg. The real value is still under water and we have yet to really reveal it because our methods of quantifying it, of understanding it, are not yet developed enough. “
Because of these emerging limitations in quantifying the environment – particularly in areas such as habitat and indigenous environmental values - the report states, “The overall estimated value is likely to be significantly higher.”
The Squamish District Council unanimously voted in its September 7th meeting to circulate the report to employees.
A district spokesman told The Chief that the community would not be able to comment on the report until this review was done. After reviewing the report, staff will determine the next steps to report to the council.
~ With files from Jennifer Thuncher