Why are Natural Heritage Systems Important?
Natural heritage preservation, including green infrastructure, supports sustainable tourism, fish and wildlife, quality of life, human health, a sustainable economy, and provides free ecological services.
Ecosystem Services and Climate Change
There are at least 17 ecosystem services provided by natural systems. Some of these include climate regulation, water regulation, erosion control and sediment retention, carbon sequestration, and heat island effect mitigation.
The ecosystem services provided by the natural systems in the Lake Simcoe watershed are valued at $922.7 million.
With the impacts of climate change already upon us, it is more important now more than ever to prioritize the health of the watershed to mitigate the occurrence of flooding, heat events and excessive nutrients, contaminants, and pathogens in Lake Simcoe.
Losing natural heritage area to development increases the amount of impermeable land, exacerbating run-off which contributes to phosphorus loads. Just as protecting Ontario’s Green Belt is a necessary part of climate change mitigation, so is achieving the 40% High Quality Natural Cover target of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.
Sustainable Tourism and Recreation
People around Lake Simcoe love nature. We are the ones trying to protect the incredible nature that we have today. And that should matter to local government and businesses, because it’s worth a lot of money. Outdoor recreation in the Lake Simcoe watershed is estimated to generate $420 million per year.
A 2015 tourism study indicated that 65% of visitors to Simcoe County visited for outdoor recreation; visiting friends and relatives; fishing; and going to the cottage. All four visitor groups had a high interest in sustainability of the region. Naturally, a healthy and robust environment is an essential component of sustainable tourism, and is part of the area’s attraction today. We would be shooting ourselves in the foot financially, as well as environmentally, if we let the quality and quantity of natural heritage degrade.
Human Health Benefits of Green Space
While the connection between green space and health may feel intuitive to some, a growing body of international research shows a strong connection between healthy ecosystems and healthy and high-functioning local populations, which supports productivity.
Exposure to natural areas supports mental and physical well-being and provides respite from urban pressures. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Another study found that residential green reduced the risk of mortality independently from other environmental exposures. Residential green includes all sources of greenness in the neighbourhood, including parks, trees, open green space and other vegetation.
The claims about the mental and physical health benefits of green space are backed up by the dollar value we place on homes. Home owners benefit from the proximity of greenspace. Being adjacent to naturalistic parks increases home value by 9-20% compared to homes not close to nature. Indeed, access to Lake Simcoe and an outdoorsy lifestyle are two of the top four reasons people move to the Barrie area, according to a 2018 Barrie District Association of Realtors member survey. Ultimately, maintaining our green space is good for everyone.