The hidden value of BC's nature.

 Diez Vistas, British Columbia. Photo by George Kamiya.

Diez Vistas, British Columbia. Photo by George Kamiya.

If you’ve ever hiked, scrambled, or otherwise hauled yourself to the summit of one of British Columbia’s mountains you probably took a moment to gaze toward the horizon and enjoy what you thought was a million dollar view. Well, new research from the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University claims that your valuation was probably a gross under-estimate.

Results from a province-wide survey of BC residents undertaken last spring estimate the total economic contributions made by people participating in wilderness recreation at around $3.6 billion per year, not including money spent on equipment. That is to say, the gas you put in your car, the snacks you throw in your backpack, and any money you pay for overnight camping combined with the other expenses you and your mountain-climbing compatriots around the province incur pump as much money through BC’s economy as the total revenue generated by YouTube last year.

At a time when parks are being proposed as drilling sites and the federal government has just approved a pipeline through one of the world’s last stretches of pristine rainforest, it is nice to know that there is a significant economic benefit to keeping wild lands intact. The new study reports that day trips alone generated in excess of $2 billion in spending.

The great thing about these dollars that might not strike you at first is that they end up in the hands of small business owners throughout the province. The massive sums of money we are talking about get spread around to help entrepreneurs both locally and regionally rather than inflating the already swollen bank account of land developers or oil and gas tycoons. The money generated through participation in activities like hiking, kayaking, fishing, and rock climbing is willingly and often enthusiastically spent and helps the people who actually live in an area rather than remote executives of unseen multinationals.

This research is the first to shed light specifically on the money that can be generated by leaving trees standing and water unpolluted and it points in a clear direction in terms of sustainable economic productivity: If we want to make the most of the ground beneath our feet in the long-term, and use the money it can generate to benefit the largest number people, it makes the most sense to leave it in a condition that people want to see, experience, and explore. Rather than opening parks up to oil and gas exploration, we should be talking about which areas we can block-off in perpetuity and build a network of trails through.

If you’re still unsure about the benefit of parks and think that development should come before conservation, there is a simple exercise you can use to try and open your mind a little. Next time you hear gravel crunching under the tread of a hiking boot or water churning in the wake of a well-paddled canoe, try to look past the superficial beauty of the moment you find yourself in and hear the sound that will make these activities sustainable into the future: cha-ching.