Canadians Willing to Spend More on National Parks
Survey examines economic value people place on parks
BY DEIRDRE HEALEY
Canadians are willing to dig deeper into their wallets if it means preserving our national parks, according to a new study by a PhD candidate in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development.
In a first-ever survey examining the economic value the general population places on Canada's national parks, Will Wistowsky found that 61 per cent of Canadian households were willing to contribute additional funds to help maintain and complete Canada's national park system.
When people were asked how much more they'd be willing to pay, the average amount was $53 per household, with 47 per cent saying they'd be willing to contribute that amount annually.
Multiply that amount by the Canadian population and it adds up to $374 million in one-time funding plus an annual benefit of $176 million.
“This shows how much all Canadians — both park visitors and non-visitors — value their national parks,” says Wistowsky.
Although his research isn't intended to put a price tag on national parks, dollar figures allow officials to talk about the benefits of national parks in comparable and concrete terms, he says.
“Just as foresters are able to express the economic value of felled trees in dollar amounts, people who value the national parks should be allowed to assign a monetary value to their experiences and benefits.”
Previous studies have looked at the value of national parks based on gate receipts, says Wistowsky. But that puts pressure on the parks to focus on boosting revenues by increasing the number of users, which will come at the expense of environmental damage.
“This shows how much Canadians value their national parks regardless of whether they visit them.”
Despite Canada having one of the world's oldest national park systems, there is little information on their actual economic value to Canadian society, says Wistowsky.
His findings are based on questions added to Parks Canada's 2005 national public opinion poll. This enabled him to survey more than 1,300 people.
When asked why they would contribute more, a majority of respondents said they wanted these areas protected and available for future generations, says Wistowsky.
Although a majority of Canadians were willing to pay more to preserve the parks, he found the economic value placed on national parks differed slightly among provinces.
People in Ontario and Alberta were willing to contribute the most to preserving parks (an average of $57), whereas those surveyed in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan would contribute the least (an average of $46).
Likewise, the younger the respondent, the more money he or she was willing to pay. Twenty-year-olds would pay $58, and 80-year-olds would pay $47.
Despite these differences, an overwhelming majority of respondents — about 70 per cent — strongly supported the federal government using tax dollars to maintain and protect national parks, says Wistowsky. In addition, 54 per cent strongly supported increasing funding for conserving wilderness in national parks, and more than 45 per cent strongly supported the use of tax dollars to complete the national park system.
“Knowing the value of national parks to Canadians and the factors that influence this value is important when it comes to making informed decisions about the management of these areas today and for future generations.”