New peer-reviewed research about the benefits that people get from nature

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I am writing to share new information that may assist the Joint Review Panel in its deliberations to assess impacts of the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Mine.

On January 5, 2021, my colleagues and I published peer-reviewed research that evaluates key benefits that people get from nature across Canada (Mitchell et al. 2021). We did this research because people rely on nature and the ecosystems that surround them for all kinds of benefits that support our well-being; information like this is required to make careful decisions about whether and how human uses and activities affect the supply and delivery of those benefits to people. Below, I briefly describe our research and how the main findings relate to the area around Grassy Mountain Coal Mine.

We modeled and mapped incorporating both nature’s capacity to supply these benefits, as well as human access and demand for them: 1) climate regulation (i.e., carbon storage); 2) freshwater (i.e., for drinking, irrigation), and 3) nature-based outdoor recreation.

First, we assessed where nature has the capacity to supply each benefit (aka “ecosystem service”). For example, where freshwater via runoff is available across Canada, or where natural features are located that previous research shows people prefer for recreation (e.g., mountains, rivers, lakes, coastlines). Second, we assessed where human demand is for these services or where people can best access them. For freshwater this meant determining where downstream communities, agriculture, dams, and industry are located. For recreation this meant assessing how accessible areas are via roads and how many people live in the area. Where capacity and demand connect, then the provision of ecosystem services – the actual delivery of nature’s benefits to people – can occur. Third, we evaluated where multiple benefits occur (i.e., “hotspots” with the top 20% of values for each service) and how much overlap there is between these hotspots and Canada’s current protected areas and natural resource extraction tenures. In addition to the research, we created an interactive mapping tool that allows people to explore the results themselves (link below).

Among our findings are that Alberta’s eastern slopes – including the area around the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Mine – are among the most important places in the whole country for their combination of benefits that people get from nature. Specifically, although this area does get very much precipitation (i.e., it is not a hotspot for its freshwater capacity), there is extraordinary downstream demand for water (i.e., it is a hotspot for freshwater demand). Together, this means that the Alberta eastern slopes are a nationally significant place for freshwater provision (Mitchell et al. 2021 Figure 2b, attached).

I urge you to consider the regional and national significance of this area for many reasons, including its profound importance for water and recreation (as this research demonstrates), in addition to other vital considerations such as critical habitat for species at risk, ecological connectivity, and water pollution.

Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to provide more information if helpful.


Aerin Jacob, PhD

Conservation scientist, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative


Citation: MGE Mitchell, R Schuster, AL Jacob, DEL Hanna, C Ouellet Dallaire, C Raudsepp-Hearne, EM Bennett, B Lehner, KMA Chan. (2021) Quantifying nature’s benefits to people for national-scale conservation planning. Environmental Research Letters. 16 (1): 014038. Available at:

Interactive data visualization tool: Please note that while our original analysis is at 250 m x 250 m resolution, the data visualization tool shows results at 1 km x 1 km resolution due to computational constraints.

Submitted by
Aerin Jacob
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  • Mitchell et al. 2021 Figure 2b.JPG (57328 KB)
  • Date Submitted
    2021-01-15 - 5:59 PM
    Date modified: