YOUTUBE VIDEO: “In researching tools for local governments to manage natural assets, we discovered EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process initiative, and were intrigued by both their focus on stakeholder collaboration and their unique and straightforward method of valuation,” stated Judy O’Leary, Network Coordinator for the Climate Caucus (May 2022)

Note to Reader:

Management of “natural assets” within a local government’s Asset Management Strategy is an idea whose time has come. This statement sounds good but what does “managing natural assets” actually mean in the local government setting? In May 2022, Melisa Gunn of the Township of Langley and Tim Pringle of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia addressed this question in a webinar organized and hosted by the Climate Caucus.

Climate Caucus is a non-partisan network of 460+ local elected climate leaders driving system change to transform Canadian communities. Their mission is to connect, support, and advocate for local elected leaders to accelerate the transformation for communities to thrive within planetary boundaries. Helping these local climate leaders manage natural assets is a key component of their work.

Melisa Gunn and Tim Pringle shared the story of the Bertrand Creek EAP Project, the final case study in a 6-year program to test, refine and mainstream EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process. The May 2022 webinar was the second in a series organized by the Climate Caucus on Managing Natural Assets.

Finding the Natural Capital Asset Value of the Bertrand Creek System

Bertrand Creek and its tributaries drain the southeast quarter of the Township of Langley and is a transboundary watershed. The Bertrand system occupies 14% of the municipality’s total land base The main stem originates in a rural area, swings through urban Aldergrove, and flows south through agricultural land into Washington State. There, it discharges into the Nooksack River.

The Township has developed a strategy that would allow it to compensate rural parcel owners for on-parcel maintenance and management (M&M) and restoration of ecological assets. EAP metrics would support a strategy to increase M&M of riparian assets and woodland assets that are essential for the condition of the stream system. It is therefore a natural alignment of two precedent-setting approaches.

The Applied Research Question

“The community values the Bertrand Creek landscape. The EAP focus on Bertrand occurs in a framework of policy and actions which protect the environment and natural assets,” states Tim Pringle, Chair of the EAP initiative, a 6-year program of applied research. The EAP program has involve a dozen local governments in five regions on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The program has evolved EAP through a 3-stage process of testing, refining, and mainstreaming the methodology and metrics.

“The question is, how can EAP support the case for payment to rural parcel owners in the Township of Langley? In a nutshell, the answer is that EAP yields data and the understanding that would allow the Township to implement the strategy for Payment of Ecosystem Services in a way that is equitable for all residents.”

Local Governments Need Real Numbers to Deliver Outcomes

“When all is said and done, EAP is about ensuring that streams survive in an urban or urbanizing setting. Thanks to the innovation of Tim Pringle, EAP injects balance into the asset management conversation by giving equal weight to the environmental protection perspective and associated financial case for investing in  stream systems,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“Local governments need real numbers to deliver green infrastructure outcomes. It is that simple. Tim Pringle’s unusual blend of education and career experience sets him apart from the usual suspects in the ‘ecological services crowd’. He is a sociologist who has a working knowledge of real estate finance. This experience propelled his breakthrough in developing the metrics for EAP.”

Application to Bertrand Creek in the Township of Langley

“In 2015, the Bertrand Creek watershed was chosen for its unique qualities. The purpose of ESI, the Ecological Services Initiative, is to pay farmers to enhance areas on their properties. The Township of Langley was looking for a process that used real numbers to understand how to develop fair and equitable payments for the agricultural landowners that was based on real numbers to move forward with the Ecological Services Initiative Project,” stated Melisa Gunn, Agricultural Planner with the Township.

“Currently, Township staff are working on a long-term Ecological Services Initiative program. The EAP analysis will be used to establish the baseline funding for payment to farmers. We are also planning on sharing the EAP results with the Township’s Asset Management Planning team for use in their natural assets inventory. In the future, we can use EAP to expand the program to other watersheds. Overall, the EAP findings support Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery.”

Climate Caucus Webinar on YouTube

To experience the flavour of the co-presentation, watch the video posted on YouTube.

Natural Asset Management: Cutting through the rhetoric

Words matter. In the local government setting, what is a natural asset, really? It is a vague term that has become a buzz word that is not helpful. Why not use plain language that creates a mental picture? Stream corridor systems, parks, and conservation areas – these are land uses that constitute “natural assets”. From a municipal asset management perspective, however, which is the most important, and why?

The answer is stream corridor systems because they provide a “package of ecological services” – drainage, habitat, recreation, and enjoyment of property. Streams are a major focus for community involvement. Consider how much work stewardship groups do to improve conditions in streams. We can all visualize what a stream looks like. How intuitively obvious is the generic phrase “natural asset”?

Cascading Concepts Create Understanding

The mind-map below distils five cascading concepts. These underpin EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process, and provided the frame-of-reference for the Climate Caucus webinar storyline.

EAP expresses stream system maintenance and management (M&M) as a measurable metric, the Riparian Deficit, which is the environmental equivalent of the Infrastructure Gap (Deficit). The riparian deficit is a measure of “loss of riparian integrity” due to land use intrusion into the regulated streamside setback zone.

EAP puts the environmental perspective on an equal footing with the engineering and accounting perspectives and thus bridges a gap.

To Learn More:

Download a PDF copy of Finding the Natural Capital Asset Value of the Bertrand Creek System: Applying the Ecological Accounting Process, the PowerPoint co-presentation by Melisa Gunn and Tim Pringle.

To read a story published by the Partnership in advance of the Climate Caucus webinar, download a PDF copy of “Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Natural asset management… cutting through the rhetoric”.

In addition, read these other stories posted on the EAP homepage:

EAP, THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS, IS GAME-CHANGING: “With all the talk about integrating natural assets into asset management, the players forget that nature is a system. They focus too much on specific aspects of the system, rather than its interrelated functions,” stated Tim Pringle, EAP Chair, when the Partnership for Water Sustainability released a downloadable resource about the EAP program as part of its Living Water Smart Series (October 19, 2021)

DOWNLOADABLE RESOURCE: “EAP bridges a gap. It provides local government with a methodology and metrics for integrating natural assets, notably stream corridor systems, into municipal infrastructure,” states Tim Pringle, Chair of the Ecological Accounting Process initiative, when explaining A Busy Reader’s Guide to Understanding EAP (August 2021)

STUDENT INVOLVEMENT AS A FOUNDATIONAL PIECE: “The Partnership’s vision is to nest EAP within a university program for training the next generation of land use professionals. We see this as a key element of mainstreaming EAP,” stated Tim Pringle, Chair, Ecological Accounting Process (January 2021)

ARTICLE: “An outcome of EAP evolution is the identification of an eco-terminology framework that is appropriate and relevant to municipal asset management,” stated Tim Pringle, the pragmatic visionary leading EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process initiative underway in British Columbia (Asset Management BC Newsletter, Winter 2020)