Determining the impact of invasive species in Canada on non-market components (e.g., biodiversity, aesthetic quality, etc.)

(Prof. Brian Leung, McGill School of Environment & Department of Biology)

In attempting to assess the impact of introduced species, existing literature and policy action has focused more on the relatively easily quantifiable economic impacts such as impacts on fisheries, costs of cleanup, and costs of eradication and control (O'Neill 1997, Buhle et al. 2005, Pimentel et al. 2005). This provides only a basic assessment, generally underestimating the total impacts and costs associated with introduced species.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) both recognize the limitations in the readily available assessment techniques. As such, these departments have requested the development of a system through which the impact of invasive species on non-market components can be identified and quantified in order to be included in a monetary analysis. Consequently, our goal was to create a model based on existing literature concerning the more tangible non-market impacts of invasive species.

Determining the value, to stakeholders, of non-market impacts due to invasive species in Canada

(Prof. Brian Leung, McGill School of Environment & Department of Biology) 

The negative effect of aquatic invasive species (AIS) upon ecosystem services has become an issue of growing concern in Canada. However, due to the focus on the more easily quantifiable impacts on markets in most studies, there is a lack of data on the non-market impacts of AIS in the existing literature. The goal of our research was to determine how stakeholders value such non-market impacts, with values expressed in terms of monetary willingness to pay for mitigation/prevention. We hypothesized that people would most value those ecosystem services that affected them directly (notably health and recreation) and that this would be revealed in an increase in willingness to pay for prevention for specific impact categories, especially when substitutes became unavailable.

Ecological consequences of land ownership regimes

(Prof. Gregory Mikkelson, McGill School of Environment & Department of Philosophy)

In light of current debates surrounding the benefits and harms of private property as a solution to environmental degradation, we, a group of students from the McGill School of Environment, were commissioned by the Mohawk Traditional Council of Kahnawake to partake in a research project seeking to investigate the effects of land privatization in the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake. Our group sought to answer the question: has privatization in Kahnawake altered its people’s relationship with the environment? Kahnawake is an interesting and relevant site for this research because traditional land management was under the authority of women and benefited the community over the individual. As early as 1830, much of the land was privatized, however the ramifications of this are still felt in the community today, the most glaring example being the creation of the St-Lawrence Seaway. Due to the unique history or Kahnawake and the complexity of property regimes, our group used a combination of historical, legal and map analysis paired with personal interviews to reveal concretely how land regimes have changed and how the residents of the reserve perceive these changes.

Chemistry and politics in the Châteauguay Valley

(Prof. Gregory Mikkelson, McGill School of Environment & Department of Philosophy)

Huntingdon, our client, is the seat of the regional county municipality (MRC) of Haut- Saint-Laurent. Here, the land application of sewage sludge – the residue resulting from wastewater treatment – has recently surfaced as an environmental issue. The province is currently promoting the use of sludge as an agricultural fertilizer, despite concerns from local citizens about its implications for the environment and public health. Meanwhile, Huntingdon is accumulating its own sludge at its wastewater treatment plant lagoons. The lagoons will have to be emptied in about five years, at which point Huntingdon will have to dispose of the sludge.

What should Huntingdon do about sludge? Specifically: i) How can current land application of sludge be prevented in the municipalities surrounding Huntingdon? and ii) What is the most viable strategy that Huntingdon can adopt to manage the accumulation of sludge produced in the municipality? In addressing ii), we assessed the viability of different sludge disposal techniques based on: economic, environmental, public health, socio-political, and administrative viability.

Encouragement of biodiversity in a small urban community

(Prof. Bruce Case, Associate Member, McGill School of Environment & Department of Pathology)

The city of Westmount has in place a Sustainable Action Plan, which includes specific objectives that are focused on nature and biodiversity in Westmount, and more specifically, in Summit Park and the extensive green space of private lawns. In order to assess the anthropogenic effects on biodiversity in Summit Park, three projects were undertaken.

Primarily, wild chervil was used as an indicator to assess if changing the asphalted portion of Summit Circle road in Summit Park to a gravel path will have ecosystem benefits. Public knowledge and a literature review on bird nesting seasons for species present in Summit Park was used as an indicator to assess if extending the time of year that dogs must be on leash in Summit Park would be necessary. Lastly, a literature review on native tree species in Summit Park was used as an indicator to assess which tree species would be beneficial if distributed to Westmount residents.

Handling of Industrial and Commercial Waste in Montreal

(Prof. Fréderic Fabry, McGill School of Environment & Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences)

In 2009 the City of Montreal released a plan for residential organic waste (OW) collection and processing on-island. Our client, Sierra Club Québec, asked us to research a plan to provide similar OW processing for the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector. To determine whether a system of OW facilities would truly benefit the city (as opposed to current landfilling practices) and at what capacity the system needed to operate, our group designed three scenarios to evaluate the economic, environmental and social costs and benefits accrued from our proposed on-island OW plan.

Biodiversity conservation: planning for climate change

(Prof. Sylvie de Blois, McGill School of Environment & Department of Plant Science)


Rethinking food choices at McGill

(Prof. Sylvie de Blois, McGill School of Environment & Department of Plant Science)

Agriculture is a rapidly changing sector in Canada and worldwide, characterized by burgeoning farm size, consolidation of farmers and retailers, vertical integration, and a disconnect between consumers and the food they eat, particularly in the last three decades (Preibisch 2007; Pollen 2006; Draper 2002; Schlosser 2002). The past half century has also witnessed increased agricultural pollution, particularly the release of excess nitrates and phosphorus into water and soil, deforestation, and other environmental destruction in the name of increased production (Pollen 2006; Draper 2002). For better or worse, agriculture, and the common person’s relationship to the food they eat has drastically changed.

Food at McGill’s independent residence cafeterias is currently ordered based on price, quality and student preference (Glencross 2009). The impact of these products’ on the social and physical environment is given little, if any, consideration. Moreover, unlike price, the environmental and social costs of goods, often externalized from producer costs, are not stamped onto the product (Hawken 2005). But this cost does vary.

Our client, the McGill Food System Project (MFSP) is a university endorsed, student run initiative, whose goal is to examine and revitalize the university’s relationship with the food it consumes. Our team was asked to participate in this process by investigating McGill’s food sources. We narrowed our focus to greenhouse tomatoes and chicken. In short, we choose these areas because throughout the year, MFDS orders more tomatoes than any other produce item (Oliver De Volpi, personal interview, September 2009). Meanwhile, chicken is the most commonly consumed protein source in McGill’s residence cafeterias (Oliver De Volpi, personal interview, September 2009.

Our project focuses on all the actors participating in the food supply chain: the companies; the products; the environment that cradles them; and the communities that make the links of this supply chain stronger. Our goal was to investigate the relevant and realistic criteria that could be applied to source McGill’s food more sustainably.

Online tools to support engagement with Local Ecological Footprint Analysis

(Prof. Renée Sieber, McGill School of Environment & Department of Geography)

To reach their vision of a sustainable community, the City of Westmount mandated that their sustainable development coordinator, Mr. Joshua Wolfe, elaborate a sustainable development action plan (Wolfe 2009). The concept of an ecological footprint (EF) was chosen. This concept was first introduced by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the end of the last century (Moffatt 2000, 359). The goals of the EF are to quantify, standardize and visualize the impacts of human consumption (Wackernagel and Yount 2000, 25). As defined by the pioneers, “the EF is the total area of productive land and water required continuously to produce all the resources consumed and to assimilate all the wastes produced by a defined population wherever on Earth that land is located”, at a given level of technology (Rees and Wackernagel 1996, 228). The EF allows users to compare their footprints to others and to “see” the impacts of their local consumption on the globe. Our research question was: Using GoogleMaps, how can we create an effective online Ecological Footprint visualization to engage the citizens of Westmount and city council so that the community may work towards attaining the vision of sustainability adopted by the municipality in February 2009?

Building a local Ecological Footprint for the City of Westmount

(Prof. Renée Sieber, McGill School of Environment & Department of Geography)

As sustainability is suggested to be tantamount to human survival, cities have started conducting Local Ecological Footprint Analyses (LEFAs) to quantify the extent of adverse environmental effects with the intention of becoming more sustainable. This study assesses ways in which consumption habits in the City of Westmount, Quebec, contribute to its ecological footprint. By determining the components of the footprint that contribute the most, we can highlight specific consumption patterns that can be reduced.