Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Monday, 10 November 2014

It's in our nature, and nature is us!

By Mike Puddister, Director Restoration & Stewardship, Credit Valley Conservation

Natures benefits, or ecosystem services is a way of thinking about our relationships, in fact our dependence upon, the natural environment for our social, physical, mental and economic health and wellbeing. In reading a number of Latornell blogs posted over the last several years, I was amazed at how many fellow conservationists spoke of the important relationship we have with the natural environment.

It is obvious to me that these messages are having a hard time getting beyond the tree huggers; and I mean that in the fondest way…heck I’m one of them! When I think back to the challenges our planners face day in and day out, this lack of understanding can hit you right between the eyes. If you’ve ever had to try and negotiate a solution for the protection or restoration of an important natural feature it often seemed like an ‘us versus them, take no prisoners smack down’!

The concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services provide a basis for better appreciating and understanding how we benefit from a healthy natural environment today and through effective conservation can continue to benefit in the future. That’s not to say the natural environment isn’t valuable in its own right, the problem is that these intrinsic values rarely get notice when one is embroiled in a benefit-cost-type discussion. Rarely will you hear reference to ecosystem services, such as the air quality, urban heat island or social cohesion benefits (and in some cases, monetary value) of a woodlot about to go under the axe. While some bristle at the idea, I am convinced that we need to talk about the importance of nature from an anthropocentric point of view. The “what’s in it for us” perspective is often what wins the day. Thankfully some altruism still exists, but I think we need to appeal more to our own self-interest.

The reality is no one makes decisions with the intent to do harm. Land use changes are however, driven by economic growth and the need to meet increased demands for housing, food, and other consumer goods and services; all of which provide us a better quality of life.  However, the external costs imposed by these activities are simply not accounted for and are ultimately borne by society. Continuing to ignore these costs in our quest for a better quality of life could end up undermining the very source of our well-being, our life supporting ecosystems, and may actually cost us our quality of life.

While we all know the protection and restoration of the natural environment is critical for wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity to name a few, the underlying message is that we need to fundamentally transform the way we think about managing our natural systems. We need a paradigm shift that requires us to recognize the natural systems that make up our landscape are not simply resources to be extracted or removed, but represent elements of an ecosystem upon which we all depend. It provides our life support systems and our economic and social support systems. We exist within a socio-ecological system. It’s another way of thinking about humans as an integral part of the ecosystem approach.

The Ontario Network on Ecosystem Services (ONES) has been established to further this conversation in Ontario and help advance the transformation we are all hoping for. If you’d like to know more about what is happening in the world of ecosystem services check out If you have interest in the connections between a healthy natural environment and our community health and wellbeing, keep an eye out for EcoHealth Ontario, a province-wide collaboration of public health folks, CAs, NGOs, medical and planning professionals and others. There will be a website up soon @

Mike Puddister has been employed by Credit Valley Conservation Authority since 1985 and is currently Director of Restoration and Stewardship (and a recovering planner). His responsibilities within the Credit include terrestrial, aquatic and wetland habitat restoration, forest management, urban and rural community outreach, education and research in areas such as ecosystem services.