Ecosystem Services and Decision Making on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

In 2012/2013 The Natural Capital Project (NatCap) along with the West Coast Aquatic Management Board (WCA) worked with various communities and stakeholders on the West Coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI) to determine how best to meet particular desires for development while ensuring that the area remains healthy and resilient to extreme weather and its consequences. While the area is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding brought about by storm surges, the initial impetus for the studies was a desire of the WCA to create a regional marine spatial plan. NatCap is headed by Stanford University and is comprised of a multitude of academic institutions and ENGOs while the WCA is itself a collection of multi-scalar government entities and local stakeholders. Work was done particularly throughout Barkley and Cloyoquot Sounds as well as at a finer scale within the Lemmens Inlet (within Cloyoquot Sound). Much of the work done was aided by a NatCap created software called InVEST which enabled the valuation (monetary and other) of various ecosystem services. Following marine use identification, public consultation and hypothetical scenario creation at local and regional scales, the aforementioned scenarios were shortlisted and the potential conflicts arising and effects on all stakeholders and ecosystem services of these scenarios were considered. Scenarios were then presented to the governmental decision-making body (WCA) for review and potential integration into marine spatial plans.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

It is important to first note that this project was initiated by WCA through a desire to create a marine spatial plan for the region. It is not immediately clear what the impetus for the creation of the marine spatial plan was, however, various case studies related to the project have shown that this planning work can have the effect of increasing resiliency to storm surges, improve or maintain water quality, maintain livelihoods and reduce conflict amongst multiple users. The case studies gathered information through a variety of stakeholders to create understandings of the baseline conditions in a given area. Variables were then altered based on the desired ocean use changes of those involved (for more on this process see ‘Identifying Actions’ section below). The case studies note that extreme storm events and the effects of storm surges are a concern in the WCVI area. Much consideration was put into retaining or strengthening natural storm buffering throughout communal mapping exercises and public consultation. Understanding the risks and impacts in the case of coastal ecosystems can become challenging as many ecosystem services are dependent to some degree on the other. A lack of communication between relevant actors could further confuse a situation. Software created to make explicit these relationships and to quantify ecosystem services paired with appropriate outreach could work to clarify these risks and impacts.

Identifying Actions

The case studies began by first understanding all existing marine uses in the area. This information was gathered over the course of a year through interviews with relevant stakeholders. Following identification of uses, WCA and NatCap led community meetings in which various scenarios were imagined and discussed by relevant parties. Through discussion and interactive mapping exercises, these scenarios allowed stakeholders the opportunity to express their desires for the future of the WCVI. Stakeholders’ visions for the future of the area were determined, including the introduction of new uses (such as a tourist resort) or the restriction of human settlement (addition of float homes) among other alterations. Scenarios were assessed and refined through various iterations of a NatCap developed software by the name of InVEST. InVEST allowed stakeholders to understand and quantify how their desired alterations and additions to the area would affect ecosystem services such as protection from erosion and flooding or the retention of a particular aesthetic. This process was repeated a multitude of times with each Indigenous group at a local scale before one or two ideal scenarios were chosen by each. After final scenarios were chosen at this local level, regional marine uses were overlaid in order to identify areas of potential conflict. Following this agglomeration of scenario maps, still more alternative scenarios were created at the regional level. This process enabled a collective vision of desired marine use changes which would then be considered by decisionmakers at the WCA. The entire process spanned over more than 2 years.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The planning phases related to the multiple case studies within the WCVI area which will ultimately influence the broader regional marine spatial plan provide a multitude of lessons as well as highlighting co-benefits inherent with considering multiple ecosystem services concurrently. Firstly, NatCap has found that ascertaining a complete picture of marine uses in any given area is a challenge complicated by a vast array of stakeholders and jurisdictions and which lacks any central source for holistic information. Next, the approach which best employs InVEST software is a long (over 2 years in some cases) and resource intensive one. This is a factor NatCap is now cognizant of and is confident the process could be streamlined as more experience is gained in assessing marine based ecosystem services. Further, the pubic engagement process in the WCVI has shown NatCap that these planning processes can quickly become personal as livelihoods could potentially be at stake and so should be approached with this in mind. The case studies have also shown the ability of ecosystem service modelling software such as InVEST to find and clearly display potential co-benefits of various zoning decisions that would otherwise not be apparent. For instance, scenarios were identified in which both seafood harvesting intensity and human settlement numbers could be increased without negatively affecting important storm surge dampening vegetation habitats (eelgrass). While NatCap’s approach and software will continue to be modified, formal plans to monitor outcomes will not be clear until actions are implemented.

Next Steps

After case study draft scenarios are completed by Natural Capital they are then passed onto the WCA which further considers potential conflicts that may arise with the introduction of regionally significant stakeholders. Ultimately, scenarios will likely be readjusted multiple times prior to the creation of a regional marine spatial plan thanks to input from these stakeholders. There is no defined time horizon attached to the relevance of the marine spatial plan, lending itself to periodic readjustments. Moving forward, NatCap intends to grow and modify their InVEST ecosystems services software to better serve the needs of a wide range of communities. Firstly, NatCap would like to explore ways in which they may communicate varying levels of certainty within modelling to the general public in an approachable, accurate and coherent manner. Second, NatCap believes that making their software more robust and detailed will increase the versatility of InVEST and thus make it more accessible to a host of communities and uses such as for a wide range of renewable energy scenarios. Lastly, NatCap hopes to add depth to the software by creating ways in which the values of those outside a chosen regional boundary may be incorporated into the modelling where relevant.