“What if nature WAS our economy?”



This is a guest blog post from Patty Richards, Alberta Program Advisor of Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. Alberta Ecotrust’s Environmental Grant Program is supporting the Y2Y's Nature-positive Economic Development for Southwest Alberta.


The landscapes of southwest Alberta have sustained communities of people and wildlife for thousands of years. For current and future generations to continue thriving here, economies must benefit people and the planet.

A new report points towards a future where 'nature-positive' economic development helps communities in southwest Alberta thrive by providing tangible actions that amplify and advance local community initiatives. This report adds to the critical global conversation on nature positive economic development and brings it to the local scale.


What is ‘nature-positive’? 

‘Nature positive’ is a global movement to recognize the value of nature, place it on the path of regeneration and recovery, and transform our shared world to one where people, economies and nature thrive together. The term 'nature-positive' is everywhere these days — from the global scale starting with the G7 2030 Nature Compact, and recently released Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on natural values assessment.

Around the world, development organizations are pushing for decision-making that reflects the various benefits people get from nature. Research shows that the Eastern Slopes are one of the most critical places in Canada to protect for three key “ecosystem services” — freshwater supply, carbon storage, and nature-based recreation. The concept of harmonizing human development with nature has been around since time immemorial; yet, under the current global economic paradigm, how to implement such an idea may be difficult to conceptualize.


Amplifying southwest Alberta initiatives for people and nature

To address this for communities in southwest Alberta, and with the generous funding of Alberta Ecotrust and the Government of Alberta’s Community Initiative Program, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) looked to the communities themselves to identify potential solutions. The results are published in a report that points towards a future where being ‘nature-positive’ is a part of how the region diversifies its approaches to economic development https://y2y.net/blog/a-roadmap-for-nature-positive-economic-development-in-southwest-alberta/

The report ‘Nature-Positive Economic Development for Southwest Alberta’ is based on feedback from residents, business owners and others. From this feedback, it identifies local initiatives moving in this direction and presents new ideas for a diverse group of business sectors.

The research involved extensive engagement of local stakeholders and communities completed by Alberta-based Stormy Lake Consulting. They heard from organizations, Indigenous groups, governments, and individuals in the region through a local advisory group, an economic development expert panel, and feedback sessions. Those engaged represented areas in the southwest corner of the province – the two First Nations, Kainai and Piikani, and the Specialized Municipal District of Crowsnest Pass, Cardston County and the Municipal Districts of Pincher Creek, Ranchland and Willow Creek.


The community feedback highlights three key nature-positive economic drivers for the region:

·       Tourism

·       Renewable energy

·       Agriculture

These could each be bolstered by supporting various new and existing housing, education, broadband, business development, and communications initiatives. Specific examples of recommendations include:

·       Build upon South Canada Rockies Tourism Destination Management Organization.

·       Support regional efforts in parks and trails creation, including adequate wayfinding and signage.

·       Support Opportunity Development Cooperatives for community-owned renewable energy.

·       Promote sustainable farming methods such as Agroecology in coordination with existing organizations.

·       Coordinate localized land use planning with regional planning to help to increase density and infill development, while supporting existing development plans that focus development away from sensitive areas.

·       Work with Alberta Southwest Regional Economic Development Alliance to refresh the existing broadband strategy from an equity and accessibility lens and, where possible, tie to recent Government of Alberta broadband commitment.

Bev Thornton, one of the advisory panel members and executive director of Alberta Southwest Regional Economic Development Alliance, explained how the 15 communities in this Alliance have collaborated for more than 20 years to help each other succeed. “This report emphasizes that healthy communities remain creative and persistent in working to align the complicated aspects of culture, history, and economy within the special landscapes we share,” she said. The report wholly reflects the ideas and values of those who were engaged, and as a result, is resonating positively with many who have plans to advance the ideas presented. This work is part of a long-term approach to help conserve and protect the Eastern Slopes in Alberta. We are encouraged that many individuals and groups we've engaged with are ready to adopt a nature-positive 'lens' when it comes to planning for their community's future.

Our hope is to help expand the awareness and adoption of principles and strategies that are nature positive. This could include anything from convening meetings with potential cross-sector partners, providing research and information, amplifying work by the province currently underway, undertaking intergovernmental relations on nature-positive development and/or fundraising for and managing pilot projects.

Y2Y looks forward to continued work with the various individuals and organizations who helped form this report to advance a few of its recommendations — as well, to explore the ways nature-positive approaches to development may be implemented throughout other parts of the Yellowstone to Yukon region. It is with the support of organizations like Alberta Ecotrust that Y2Y is able to keep up the work to help people and nature thrive, together, for generations to come.


The complete report, executive summary and background sociology-economic data is available at y2y.net/NaturePositiveAB

For more information please contact:

Josh Welsh, Y2Y Alberta program manager, josh@y2y.net


Alberta Ecotrust recently updated our Integrated Program Framework and introduced new focus areas including Nature Based Solutions, Circular Economy, and Climate resilience and emissions reductions.   We are looking to achieve specific outcomes in each of these focus areas and the work of Y2Y is well aligned with this; some of the indicators we’ll track include jobs related to nature positive economies.