Stories from the Greenbelt: Inventory Acceleration Project

May 26, 2021   •   , News

Inventory Acceleration project: local governments get better ways of delivering core services – naturally.

  May 26th, 2021

 As an avid cyclist and skier, I feel very fortunate to live on the west coast of our great country where I can easily access mountains, forests and oceans.   Whenever I ski or cycle, I always stop to take photos of the incredible nature surrounding us (much to the chagrin of those who have to wait for me).     So, when I joined the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI) nearly two years ago and discovered nature does so much more than look pretty, I   thought: “hey, that just makes sense!”

The Inventory Acceleration project is helping 31 local governments almost simultaneously take an inventory of their natural assets"

MNAI is on the leading edge of a growing movement that impacts the general population, but most of us are unaware of what that is. MNAI teams up with local governments that are responsible for core services that we take for granted - like ensuring our drinking water is safe, managing stormwater, reducing flooding - and supports and guides them to incorporate natural assets into delivering those services.

Credit: Town of Gibsons, B.C. Natural assets in Chapman Creek watershed mitigate flooding and control sedimentation

What are natural assets and what do they do?

Most of us think of natural assets as parks or recreational places. They’re those…and so much more. Natural assets could be wetlands, forests, aquifers, ponds, streams. Most are lovely to look at, but they’re also doing stuff behind-the-scenes like absorbing rainwater so we don’t get flooded out of our homes, filtering drinking water, providing shade, preventing our shorelines from eroding away. In other words, they’re acting as green infrastructure and providing core municipal services – some just as well as their engineered (grey) counterparts - and usually at a fraction of the cost! Natural assets also provide a range of vital co-benefits such as biodiversity, health and recreational services.

Credit: managed forest path in Town of Gibsons, B.C

Why is this important?

Every year, we see more impacts of climate change: floods, extreme heat, forest fires and other disasters. These events wreak havoc on lives and infrastructure. Status quo approaches aren’t working and aren’t always affordable; we cannot simply build our way out of these challenges. Lots of engineered infrastructure like culverts and pipes are already decades old and taking a beating from weather events and population growth. Replacement can be an option, but that could cost billions of dollars. Natural assets and the Inventory Acceleration project are providing a complementary, or even alternative, solution.

Credit: flooding in the Village of St. André, New Brunswick

What is the Inventory Acceleration project?

A few months ago, with significant support from a private donor the Greenbelt Foundation was able to provide a grant of $500,000 so MNAI could work with 31 local governments across Canada to help them take an inventory of their natural assets and assess what condition they’re in, identify risks they face, and recommend steps to full natural asset management projects.

Now, the first 10 projects are complete, meaning MNAI has provided each of the first 10 local governments - such as Dufferin County, City of Markham and City of Peterborough - with their inventories in tabular and dashboard formats and a summary report with recommended next steps. 


MNAI provides local governments with dashboards of their natural asset inventories

Why is the Inventory Acceleration project so important?

Time is of the essence. The climate is changing. Government budgets are shrinking. COVID-19 shrank many budgets even further. The Inventory Acceleration project is helping 31 local governments almost simultaneously take an inventory of their natural assets. Knowing what the natural assets are, where they are, how well they’re doing, and what they’re doing are the very first steps in managing and accounting for them. Developing multiple inventories in a relatively short space of time accelerates the number of local governments gathering this information so they can hopefully start incorporating natural assets into their overall governance, budgeting and planning.

What does this mean?

If local governments inventory their natural assets, determine the condition they’re in, and the infrastructure work they’re doing, they can set themselves up for a full project to properly budget for and manage natural assets to:

  • Continue delivering reliable core services to their residents and businesses
  • Continue providing benefits to our health, recreation, and culture
  • Adapt to changes in climate
  • Enhance biodiversity
  • Save money

What’s next?

As part of the inventory, MNAI’s Inventory Acceleration reports also provide an overview of risks each local government’s natural assets face (e.g., development pressures, invasive species, overuse of trails, drought, flooding) and what can be done to address them. The remaining 20 local governments will complete their inventories and reports over the summer and fall. MNAI hopes these 31 and eventually all Canada’s ~3,600 local governments will take the next step and engage in full natural asset management projects, including incorporating natural assets into budgets, programming and planning. Doing so will accelerate Canada’s efforts to build back better, accelerate our response to climate change, save money and enable us to continue enjoying the core services that we all depend on.

Oshawa Creek managing stormwater in the City of Oshawa, ON

I continue to take photos when I’m out, but now it’s with an increased appreciation and gratitude for the services nature provides us. And to be part of an organization that’s working to restore and enhance nature - it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Cheekwan Ho is the Communications Manager for Municipal Natural Asset Initiative