Importance of biodiversity (module 1, p. 3)

Economic importance of biodiversity

Biodiversity provides: 

  • Consumptive uses-natural products such as timber, fish, game, berries and mushrooms, firewood, and medicinal plants
  • Non-consumptive uses-guiding, viewing, recreation, education, science, and natural control of pests
  • Future options-products or use not realized today, but which may become important in the future

Ecological importance of biodiversity

  • Biodiversity is considered a cornerstone to the health of the environment. We in turn depend on the environment for our own health and existence.
  • The high level of biodiversity in BC thus needs to be maintained to secure health, functioning ecosystems.

Ethical or cultural importance of biodiversity

McNeely et al. (1990) describes the ethical values of biodiversity to be based on intangible and cultural influenced values. These are categorized as being:

  • Existence value
  • Option value
  • Bequest value

Existence value — where people conserve an element of biodiversity for its own sake, without an intention of using it. This could be a species or population, or a particular stand.

Existence values include:

  • Aesthetic enjoyment; the natural beauty of old growth forests, or forested landscapes teaming with wildlife
  • Intrinsic rights; where the mere existence of something gives it a right to continue, and to be protected
  • Spiritual health; where people receive inspirational, religious, or cultural benefit from nature. For some, this can only be found in natural, old forest settings
  • Option value — conserving an element of biodiversity for later use (i.e., setting catch limits of a specific lake to ensure continuous opportunities for sport fishing).
  • Bequest value — conserving biodiversity for the sake of future generations. This is the idea of sustainable forest development.

Biodiversity is important because it provides security of future options (opportunities to use the resources in ways yet to be discovered or developed. For example, there are plants that may have medicinal values that are not yet discovered. The Pacific yew was considered to be of no commercial value or important until a chemical in the bark (taxol) was found to be effective in treating some forms of cancer.

Maintaining forest biodiversity will provide ecological assurances that the forests will withstand unforeseen future changes (such as climatic change), and continue to provide economic and ecological opportunities. In addition, forest biodiversity must be managed because of public perceptions and expectations. Recent public polls indicate that Canadians place high value on the wildlife, wilderness, and environmental aspects of forests. The public expects that these values to be carefully considered in forestry management activities; hence the pressure to practice sustainable forest development in British Columbia, ". . . utilizing the forest resource to meet today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

Having a diverse forest will increase out abilities to meet unknown future forest product demands.