Ecological health reflects the essential link between human health and well-being and the health of the natural environment. Healthy, properly functioning natural systems are the foundation to the region’s economic prosperity, our collective quality of life, and personal well-being. We rely on nature to provide a wide range of services, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
Ecological health is a complex concept that seeks to assess the health of our environment, including the health of humans.
Dr. Faisal Moola, Terrestrial Conservation and Science Director for the David Suzuki Foundation points out that a healthy environment brings many benefits.
“When we talk about ecological health, we’re not just talking about protecting places so that plants and animals can survive and live and persist, but also recognition that the health of the environment is critical to sustaining our own health and our well-being.”
“This region was doing fine before the renewed settlers,” says Ann Rowan, a Sustainability Strategist for Metro Vancouver. “It was big, big forests and lots of salmon, with just a few people that could live off the land and had a good life. Then more and more people have moved into the region, because it’s an attractive place to live. And we, for a long time, we have been able to dodge the bullet of, what our actions do to the ecosystem. We need to look at a new approach, and that new approach has to be, if we want ecosystems to take care of us, we need to begin to take care of the ecosystems. It’s not just managing them, it’s actually managing ourselves.”
Moola reiterates the importance of understanding the inter-connectedness of our world.
“We’re biodiversity, we’re part of the suite of plants and animals that are found within the Lower Mainland. As a consequence, so much of the daily decisions we make, where we’re going to live, how we’re going to get to work or school or buy our groceries — those are all going to have direct impacts on the natural system that we are interacting with. Ecosystem health in an urban environment like Metro Vancouver, is very different than if we were talking about the Great Bear Rain Forest. Here what we need to look at is not only how we affect and natural systems affect us, but how the urban ecosystem affects our health. So the quality of the buildings that we live in can affect our health, our mental well-being, and that’s all part of what we consider ecosystem health. So it’s a very broad, encompassing look at what the quality of life is here, in Metro Vancouver.”
Ecological health is a huge subject area. It’s the air, the water, the trees, even the mosquitoes. In fact, it’s the health of everything on our planet. And that’s why Metro Vancouver is investing in developing an ecological health plan.
“In developing a plan to improve and maintain the ecological health of the region, we could have developed a big strategic framework, all the different things that could be done,” says Rowan. “But, we received clear direction that what we need to do is, let’s get on with it. Let’s develop something very pragmatic that can get some projects on the ground and illustrate, I think, for the public and for other stakeholders that, in fact, we can take initiative and begin to work on ecological health.”
Metro Vancouver’s staff worked on the ecological health action plan for months. The proposed plan intends to focus on four areas. Ann Rowan explains.
“First, in making connections between our ecosystems within the region; the second area is, bringing back salmon in the city; the third is, reducing toxics; and then the fourth is, using green infrastructure in our own landscaping.”
The proposed ecological health action plan identifies twelve projects that can start almost immediately, projects that will have a measurable positive effect.
“We developed projects that we would add value to the ecological health in the region and are primarily within Metro Vancouver’s mandate,” says Rowan.
Dr. Moola identifies a key piece of this complex puzzle.
“The most important thing that we could do is to design the lower mainland in a way that maximizes the protection of all of these different ecosystems. And that means we need to think about how we grow and plan our cities, manage our cities. We need to be maximizing as much of that growth within those areas that are already developed. Because by doing that, we actually take off and alleviate much of the growth pressures in terms of impacting fields, farms, forests and other ecosystems.”
“We were hoping developing an ecological health action plan will create new energy and innovation within the organization in terms of ecological health,” says Rowan. “But at the same time, it should help to foster a new energy and enthusiasm across the region, including other municipalities and other stakeholders around the idea that we can do more about ecological health. Sure, we could do more studies, but maybe what we need to do right now, is just get our hands dirty and begin to do it.”