Calm water, reflections of the sky shimmering on the surface, and the faint sounds of animals nearby. November’s photo of the month by Mark Faviell, “reflections of a river”, demonstrates the joy and serene beauty that wetlands, bodies of water, and other landscapes can provide. While examining Mark’s photo, you may feel a bit of enjoyment. Or, instead, perhaps you feel appreciative, or calm and relaxed. If you were at this spot in person, you would likely have other positive feelings, either from the beauty you are taking in or perhaps from the sounds of nearby birds. The welfare you are provided demonstrates an important value of wetlands that are often overlooked: their non-use values.
Traditionally, economics and policy analysis valuate and monetize the direct and indirect values – or benefits – that ecological services provide. For example, we can place a monetary value for an area of wetland based on the flood protection it provides, and the water filtration it undertakes. As a result, we are able to perform tradeoff analyses when assessing possible actions – whether that be development, damming, or conservation, for example. However, until recently, little attention has been paid to the non-use values; the simple aspect of “existing” is worth something. What if certain areas are valued culturally? What if thousands of people visit these areas a year to appreciate their beauty? There must be some value we place on all of these things. Surely enough, there is. Economists have been making a big push lately to try to incorporate these “non-use” values, to better quantify their benefits. Ignoring these values means we consistently undervalue these ecosystems and landscapes; after all, they contribute to our well being.
While this is a great step forward, valuation of non-use values, or “existence” values, is still in its infancy. Many economists have made estimates of what these values may be for wetlands and other landscapes, but estimates range wildly. What is important to know is that many cost-benefit analyses that governments use fail to incorporate this value, thereby falsely underestimating the total benefit of these areas. So next time you see a document released that seeks to advise government on a decision concerning wetlands – or other landscapes/ecosystems – check to see if the consulting firm incorporated this value. Each time one of these studies comes out that ignores these benefits, we make the case stronger to deplete these ecosystems in favour of development and other pursuits. Let your local politicians know, and lets help preserve our natural beauty and ecosystems.
If you’d like to be considered for our Photo of the Month series, please submit any wetlands photos to our Flickr Group, Wetlands of British Columbia.