Editorial: The time for EGS is long overdue

Paying landowners for the environmental work they perform would blaze a new trail for a better environment

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Once in a while at livestock producer meetings, Ecological Goods and Services (EGS) is on the agenda.

The idea was first broached around 20 years ago, but under different names. The venerable Western Stock Growers’ Association, who has championed the cause for many years, has called it Environmental Goods and Services. A past Alberta Environment report called it Ecosystem Goods and Services. Interestingly, an Internet search finds different descriptions and assumptions as to what EGS means — it seems to depend on the organization and its intentions.

The Miistakis Institute of the University of Calgary defines EGS “as the economic and social benefits humans derive, directly and indirectly, from the natural environment or Natural Capital, such as clean air, healthy soil, biodiversity, and water quality and quantity.” The institute has conducted research in the nature and value of EGS. Landowners, farmers and ranchers like such research because if a per-hectare value can be placed on EGS, then there is the potential of obtaining an additional revenue flow from one’s property.

Visions of being paid to watch grass grow come to mind.

However, any such research has not been an easy exercise because of the environmental variables from one location to another. To my knowledge, no research report has stuck its neck out and stated EGS is worth, for instance, $50 per hectare. Clearly, it would set a precedent. From a landowner perspective, it would be a perfect flag to wave in front of activist green groups, governments, wildlife organizations, fish and game associations, and the urban public. The message might run along the lines of, ‘Pay for the EGS we’re now providing for free or shut up.’

One can appreciate that none of the aforementioned groups really want to go down that trail. If you admit farmers and ranchers are providing ecological services for free, it’s not as easy to criticize the environmental impact of modern agriculture. But the current approach is not fair or progressive, particularly if one wants to enhance environmental flora and fauna.

A sliding scale of EGS values and payments would go a long way to seeing a remarkable change in the quality of ecosystems in many areas. For instance, if a base price was $10 per hectare and was increased gradually to much higher levels if certain standards and improvements were met, you’d see conservation measures quickly adopted. I expect even endangered species would be coming back from the dead if the right incentives were applied.

How could anyone be opposed to such a positive goal?

Perhaps there needs to be a summit held of all the stakeholders in EGS to begin taking the concept to the next level. Sure it’s blazing a new trail, but it could be a win-win situation for all and in particular, the long-suffering environment.

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