Our forests embody a wide range of values, which provide diverse benefits. Historically, the commercial or market value of natural resources has been easier to identify than the non-market values.
When we make policy decisions affecting our forests’ future, how do we know whether we have adequately accounted for “all” the values attributable to them? Do we know if we have encouraged efficient allocation and use of resources, protected limited resources and effectively promoted conservation?
Our mandate was to provide extensive background research on the non-commercial value of forests, including a colloquium think-tank of field experts in ethics, accounting, First Nation spirituality and theology. From this data, we provided recommendations that played an essential role informing Ontario forest policy decisions, which were central to the Province’s eco-system and economic health, forestry sector’s viability and our communities’ well-being, particularly in the north.
For instance, we identified the need to look holistically at the forest ecosystem as encompassing primarily natural systems, with economic systems and social systems as component parts. Based on extensive landscape data, we also recommended the need for: accounting and evaluation systems to support forest policy decision-making to be guided by Core Principles to encompass intrinsic values; institutional and structural change to establish a Provincial network to enable local, community-based decision making.
At the onset, a literature review and public consultation identified the following values:
- Intrinsic Values – the value something has in itself, independent of its value to any other being. For example, if something can be damaged or harmed, it has some value, and this value is independent of, for example, its usefulness to other beings
- Spiritual Values – the value attached to something by people because of its importance to their spiritual and cultural sense of identity (e.g., special relationship of First Nations people to the land). It would also include our aesthetic response to the forest
- Ecological Values – the value attached to the importance of maintaining forest biodiversity to ensure overall ecosystem health and human survival
- Community Values – this value is central to understanding the sense of community identity, community cohesion and the quality of life in many northern forest communities — the northern Ontario ‘sense of cooperation’
- Existence Value – the value attached to the satisfaction people obtain from an amenity for various reasons other than their expected personal use. In other words, the satisfaction or peace of mind which comes just from knowing that a natural feature, such as a forest, exists independently of our experience or use of it.’
These values set the stage for a much needed broader consideration of their linkages, divergences and place within a full spectrum of forest values. Integral to this was colloquium participants’ belief that “all forest planning must address the need to Avoid Irrecoverable Harm to the forest ecosystem in the short and long term.”
Additional dialogue and research led to development of recommended Core Principles to preserve ecosystem integrity and the following relevant goals:
- To sustain the health and integrity of ecosystems as a whole (including human processes, economics and health).
- To sustain the biological diversity of our natural heritage.
- To sustain the biological productivity of the natural system.
- To sustain natural ecological processes.
- To promote environmental education so that the people of Ontario will understand these goals.
We also recommended that these principles explicitly acknowledge the importance of, and accord equal status to the following Core Values:
- The well-being of future generations (the First Nation principle of a seven generation time-line is recommended)
- The well-being of individuals and local communities
- The well-being of forests
- The well-being of the forest economy
Many of the policy decisions initiated by our Precious Values Report still stand. The above Core Principles and Core Values are also as relevant today – World Forestry Day, 2013.
Leslie Hetherington is Communications Director at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited. She is an award-winning, Accredited PR Practitioner (APR) and a past president of the Toronto chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. Leslie’s project experience includes integrated communications planning and implementation through traditional and online channels for diverse mandates, from managing reputations to stimulating economic development in Canada’s North. Skills include stakeholder and media relations, social media marketing, website development, event management and copy writing.