U Sask researchers develop to tool to find the ‘cost’ of wetlands

A new study from a team of University of Saskatchewan researchers has resulted in a tool designed to estimate a value for wetland services to help farmers, land planners, and policymakers understand the benefits of wetland conservation in agriculture.

With farmland becoming more critical for food production, many providers have converted wetlands into usable farmland. It is estimated that inland freshwater wetlands have decreased by 70 per cent since the beginning of the 20th century.

Dr. Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle, a conservation planning biologist and adjunct professor at the USask School of Environment and Sustainability, said putting a monetary value on wetlands was difficult.

“Calculating wetland ecosystem services or measures of importance is almost as difficult as quantifying the importance of fresh air. You don’t realize how important they are until they are gone.”

In populated prairie areas closer to cities with a lower density of wetlands, wetlands can have values averaging $6,500 per hectare (ha) per year for their combined services, whereas wetlands in areas of lower population density, but with higher wetland area, are valued at about half this amount.

These estimated values for ecosystem services can be substantially greater than the net returns of cultivating canola or spring wheat, ranging from $85/ha up to $500/ha depending on the location.

“This is a tool for farmers and also other landowners to give credit to the wetlands on the landscape and how they provide value. It does give a resource or tool that can help provide quantified metrics that you can use to calculate,” she said.

Mantyka-Pringle said one of the best benefits of wetlands from farmers is the positive environmental impact it has.

“Wetlands are the best carbon containers that are out there. They are the carbon storage across the landscape, particularly in the prairies.”

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