Project – 1 – Valuation of Ecosystem Services Produced on Agricultural Lands for the Beaver Hills Initiative Pilot TDC Program

Location: University of Alberta
Research Team: Marian Weber, Peter Boxall
Duration: March 2010 –

Outline of the Research Proposal

We will partner with Strathcona County and the Beaver Hills Initiative to develop a choice experiment to value and test policy options for maintaining ecosystem services (ES) produced on agricultural lands in the Beaver Hills/Cooking Lake Moraine Area. The results will be used to develop a pilot Transfer of Development Credit (TDC) Program to conserve ES values produced on agricultural lands. We are applying for $37,600 to be spent between April 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011. The partnership will leverage an extra $90,000 in contributions towards the research. The Beaver Hills area, located in central Alberta, is an extensively treed, upland area consisting of rolling to hummocky terrain rich in native wetlands and aspen dominated Boreal mixed wood forest habitat. The Beaver Hills is valued by area residents and Albertans for its ecological significance and contribution to natural capital – the area supports a high diversity of vegetation, waterfowl, mammals and birds and is a critical source of surface and ground water. Although past land use in the Beaver Hills has mainly been restricted to agriculture, the ecosystem is threatened by increasing demand for recreational, urban, and country residential land use and requires special consideration for conservation.  The Beaver Hills Initiative (BHI) is a collaboration comprising the five municipalities within the Beaver Hills/Cooking Lake moraine, federal and provincial land management agencies such as Elk Island National Park, plus non-governmental organizations with interests in the area to promote a regional approach to land management in the moraine through a common land use/management framework.[1]

In 2007, a study was completed by the BHI which reviewed the feasibility for an inter-jurisdictional TDC program to support the ecological services being provided on agricultural lands in the BHI area. A TDC program allows landowners in areas with valued natural capital (conservation areas) to sell development credits to developers in areas targeted for intensive economic growth (receiving areas). On the basis of the study, Strathcona County in partnership with Alberta Research Council initiated a 3 year pilot TDC program to test the design of a TDC program to conserve EGS on agricultural lands in the BHI area. TDC programs involve tradeoffs between relaxed development restrictions in areas targeted for more intensive urban on the one hand, and increased restrictions on agricultural land use on the other. The success of a TDC program depends on publicly acceptable goals and objectives. The identification and public valuation of development/conservation tradeoffs is critical to establishing acceptability of the program to the wider public, as well as to determining program options that will be acceptable to both developers and agricultural landowners.

Overview of Research Question and Proposed Methods

In this study we will develop a choice experiment to examine the willingness of the public to pay to protect ecosystem services on agricultural lands in the BHI through increases in urban density or relaxation of other urban development constraints that could be used as incentives to encourage developers to pay for TDC credits from agricultural landowners. The results of this study will be directly used to develop and support design options for the pilot TDC program in the BHI area. Tradeoffs for ecosystem services are usually evaluated based on giving up development opportunities. In this case, tradeoffs will be assessed in terms of increased development options, many of which are perceived to be ‘negative’. In addition, the program options which respondents will choose from will have specific winners and losers in terms of municipal zoning, therefore we will gain an understanding of the distributional aspects of designing these programs, particularly in terms of NIMBY, and how these might be mitigated in program design. Finally, the valuation study will allow us to prioritize conservation as well as development objectives in the BHI. We are not aware of any TDC program in North America that has used valuation in designing a TDC program.


Principal Investigators

Marian Weber leads Alberta Research Council’s (now Alberta Innovates Technology Futures) Environmental Policy Research Program where she works with government, industry, and NGOs on developing market based approaches for managing environmental services from land and water resources. Recent areas of research include developing markets for biodiversity conservation on public and private lands, payments for water quality improvement, and water trading. Her work has contributed directly to land and water policy in Alberta, and she is also leading an initiative to develop a Center for Market Based Instruments to increase capacity for Government to evaluate and implement market based approaches in resource and environmental policy. She has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Alberta, is Associate Editor of the Canadian Water Resources Journal of Water, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta where she has co-supervised graduate students and research associates.

Peter Boxall is a Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics in the Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta.  His training includes a BSC (Hons) and MSc in biology and ecology from Queen’s University and University of Calgary respectively.  He also has an MSc and PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Alberta.  His research deals with the economics of environmental quality improvements, particularly non-market valuation. He also is involved in research on market based instruments in agriculture and forestry.  He has supervised numerous graduate students, has over185 publications (including refereed journals, book chapters, conference proceedings and research reports), and given about 100 presentations at conferences, professional meetings and other fora.


The principal investigators and student(s) will be supported by the TDC Pilot Program Core Team which consists of experts from Strathcona County Alberta Research Council, Miistakis Institute, the Land Stewardship Center of Canada, Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. As Executive Director of the BHI and the TDC pilot Project Manager, Brenda Wispinski (Strathcona County) brings a strong background in engaging stakeholders, project management and land management issues. Brenda will assist the Project Team to work with the BHI Board, and with the BHI Working Groups to ensure alignment of TDC program objectives with the stakeholders in the region, and facilitate discussions with municipalities in the development of required by-laws etc. for TDC program implementation. Brenda will be the key liaison between the BHI and the project. Brenda is also a Board Member of the Alberta Land Trust Alliance, (ALTA) Edmonton Area Land Trust (ELTA), and Alberta Recreation and Parks Association, (ARPA), and brings past and present experience with intergovernmental engagement with the Land Use Framework and the Capital Region Board (CRB). Strathcona County will be providing a number of key staff to the project from its departments, including the Department of Finance, responsible for fiscal management; the Legal Department, responsible for all agreements and contracts; the Economic Development and Tourism Department, responsible for regional connection to tourism; the Planning and Development Services Management and the Associate Commissioner, responsible for all municipal policy and planning, and Corporate Planning and Intergovernmental Affairs, responsible for continued cross jurisdictional partnership building.


  1. Final report summarizing the project
  2. Thesis
  3. Publication(s) from thesis
  4. Conference and workshop presentations


Activity Timeline Primary Responsibility In-Kind Contributions (student supervision) Partner Contribution Deliverable
Development of Choice Alternatives –GIS analysis, Focus Groups and consultation with municipal staff and stakeholders January 2010 – December 2011 Partners, PIs, and Graduate Student $7,500 (Peter Boxall)

$7,500 (Marian Weber)

$50,000 Report on Program Options to be tested and results of focus groups
Development of Survey Instrument January-March 2011 PIs and Graduate Student Survey instrument designed
Pilot test of survey Instrument April-May 2011 PIs and Graduate Student
Implementation of Survey June-August 2011 PIs and Graduate Student $25,000 for survey administration (e.g. Ipsos Reid)
Analysis and write up of results September-December 2011 PIs and Graduate Student
Dissemination of Results April 2010 – March 2012 Partners, PIs and Graduate Student
Existing Budget In-Kind



[1] The BHI is applying to be recognized as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve.