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Carbon capture, water filtration, other boreal forest ecoservices worth estimated $250 billion/year

Create national accounting systems to reflect all values of boreal forests: Economist

It's time to create a comprehensive accounting system for natural capital to recognize the full value of ecosystem services provided by boreal forests, an ecological economist will urge delegates to Canada's 10th National Forest Congress Sept. 25-27.

The forests' huge value as sinks and reservoirs of atmospheric carbon, for example, is unaccounted for today but needs to be recognized in future, according to Mark Anielski of Edmonton, who will make a presentation to Canadian and international forest officials, and experts from native peoples communities, the energy, farming and tourism sectors and other stakeholders assembling for the Congress at Lac Leamy, Gatineau-Ottawa.

Anielski and research colleagues estimate that environmental services from the boreal – from climate regulation via carbon capture and storage, water filtration and waste treatment, to biodiversity maintenance, pest control by birds, etc. – are worth about $160 per hectare, or $93 billion per year in Canada.

Globally, the estimates produce a rough value of ecosystem services rendered by boreal forests (almost 10 million northern square km spanning Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Alaska) of US $250 billion per year, a huge figure unrecognized in national income accounts or measures such as Gross Domestic Product.

"If these ecosystem services were counted in Canada, they would amount to roughly 9% of GDP. Ignoring these values would be like leaving out the combined annual contribution to GDP made by Canada's health and social services sector and half of the public services sector."

"Resource extraction and development in the boreal are vital to human well-being, of course. The point of our research is that services provided by the boreal ecosystem make a quantifiable contribution to well-being as well – values that are important to reflect in national and regional economic balance sheets and measures like Gross Domestic Product."

Among his recommendations: all levels of government, together with industry and local communities, should develop a natural capital accounting system to reveal the total value of ecosystems and to guide land-use planning, resource management and economic development policies. It would include, among other things, a comprehensive inventory of the boreal's natural capital.

"The boreal is like a giant carbon bank account. The forests and peatlands store an estimated 67 billion tonnes of carbon in Canada alone – almost eight times the amount of carbon produced worldwide in year 2000. The Canadian boreal on average absorbs and sequesters each year an additional amount of carbon worth $1.8 billion (based on figures about the price of carbon emissions created by the global insurance industry).

"Among other questions to be addressed is whether and how that contribution to global well-being by Canada and other boreal countries should be recognized by other nations," Anielski says.

The goal of the Congress, which coincides with Canada's National Forest Week (Sept. 24-30), is to advance an integrated, multi-disciplinary stewardship of forest resource management – an approach that reflects a broad variety of stakeholder concerns and considerations. The theme is "Sustainable Land Management in the Boreal."

"Canada's boreal represents one-quarter of all forest in the world. Its survival depends on achieving long-term, sustainable and integrated land-use management policies and practices," says Congress Chair Barry Waito, Chairman and CEO of the Canadian Forestry Association.

"Canadians need to understand the challenges presented by highly compelling interests and values that sometimes compete, and the importance of balancing economic development, ecosystem sustainability, Aboriginal interests, and community and social values."

This year marks the centenary of the first National Forest Convention, convened by the Canadian Forestry Association in 1906 and presided over by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who also served as Honourary President of the CFA. Valery P.Roschupkin, head of Russia's state forest service, and other international guests are among 200-300 expected attendees at the Congress, which will emphasize the boreal's national and international significance throughout a three-day series of presentations and panel discussions.

The Congress will facilitate discussions between industry leaders and analysts, government policy makers, Aboriginal leaders and other interested Canadians on cooperative and integrated boreal management.

Hon. Gary Lunn, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, Arthur Carty, National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, and Bob Bailey of the NWT, Chair of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, are the lunchtime keynote speakers at noon Mon., Tues. and Weds., Sept. 25-27 respectively.

Among the intended outcomes is a commitment from stakeholders – including the forestry, energy, mining, agriculture and tourism industries, Aboriginal people and communities – to create a cross-sectoral council to examine national and international goals for stewardship and sustainable land management. The proposed council would help realize a resolution to set objectives by consensus, agreed at the 1st National Forest Congress in 1906.

Terry Collins | EurekAlert!
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