In partnership with the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht First Nations, the District of Tofino, and the broader community, GVS is working to facilitate the design and implementation of an Ecosystem Services Fee (ESF) in Clayoquot Sound. The ESF is a proposed fee on the Clayoquot Sound tourism sector that will be collected and distributed to fund First Nations’ stewardship of important ecosystems, such as wild salmon watersheds, that have been damaged by unsustainable resource use and threatened by climate change.

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Developing an ecosystems management and stewardship (EMS) program in Clayoquot Sound has been in the mind of local decision-makers for many years. In 2011, members of the Ahousaht First Nation contacted Dr. Nikolakis and asked for his support to materialize their ideas. Since then, other nations and local stakeholders of the Clayoquot Sound joined the project and trusted GVS to act as a neutral facilitator and expert consultant for the creation of a regional EMS project.

This work included group choice experiments that identified preferred land use option, for which Conservation and Restoration was ranked first, Tourism second, and Industrial Development third. Further field work confirmed a strong desire among First Nations and the broader population to support Conservation and Restoration programs in the region. This field work included focus groups in 2015, conducted by Gathering Voices Society and the University of British Columbia, and a series of multi-stakeholder workshops facilitated by Gathering Voices Society, held in Tofino September and November 2017, which revealed broad support for an ESF, and a willingness for tourism businesses to support these programs.

The ESF offers an important step for creating a place-based economy, which values reconciliation and equity, and recognizes the important role of ecosystems and the services these provide. The ESF also provides sustainable livelihoods for First Nations, consistent with their desired land use objectives (evinced from field work).  Empirical evidence has shown there are significant co-benefits from Indigenous ecosystem stewardship, in addition to the conservation and economic (livelihood) outcomes, studies have documented important health outcomes (like reductions in lifestyle diseases) among participants, and improved knowledge transmission across generations.


PHASE 1: Build Relationship and assess the needs of the community (2011-2016)

Over the years, we build trust and relationship with stakeholders of Clayoquot Sound. The first initial of the project seek to answer the following questions to further dialogue on PES :

  1. to understand and document any PES programs in Clayoquot Sound

  2. to assess the acceptability of PES among a broader group of stakeholders (industry, civil actors, NGOs and the general public)

  3. to explore the potential of PES for First Nations and describe what this involvement will look like.

Findings of an initial choice experiment on individual preferences for common property highlighted that introducing communication in a group setting led individuals to change their preferences on the land use of the Clayoquot Sound region. Following this insight into the role of ‘collective reflection’ in research methods to assess Indigenous Peoples land use preferences, we conducted five focus groups and a discussion in March and April 2016 to answer these questions. These groups consisted of representatives from business, First Nations, Tofino Mayor and Council, NGOs and individual tourists.


  • Workshops demonstrated that the two preferred land use options are Conservation and Restoration (42%) and Tourism (34%).

  • PES is occurring in Clayoquot Sound and programs are based around First Nations ‘Cultural Services’, but these arrangements are not formalized and most ecosystem users simply opt-out from paying and free-ride.

  • The results highlighted that PES is acceptable to most participants and is also viewed as creating better management outcomes and establishing partnerships with First Nations.

  • PES is also gaining traction among First Nations who view it as a mechanism to obtain recognition as stewards of the landscape in ways consistent with their stewardship values.

  • Respondents’ with-communication in a group setting were more likely to switch their vote to Tourism Promotion. This is because these groups can share their opinions and decide among trade-offs in a transparent way, which trust between parties.

For more information, please read the following reports:

The Potential for Payments for Environmental Services in Clayoquot Sound: Pathways for First Nations Participation

The effect of communication on individual preferences for common property resources: A case study of two Canadian First Nations

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PHASE 2: Transformative Scenario Planning Workshops (September-November 2017)

What will Clayoquot Sound’s economy look like in 2050? What do people want for future generations in the region? And how do we get there?

There were three approaches used to answer these three questions. The first part involved the presentation of land use visions from Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht, as well the Municipality of Tofino. Informed by the land use visions, the second part of this study involved the use of a transformative scenario planning (TSP) sessions, facilitated in collaborative workshops where representatives explored possible futures, and the ways that different groups can work together to influence the future. There were two phases of workshops in September and November 2017. The third part involved a survey to understand individual perceptions and preferences for the economic future of Clayoquot Sound, which helped validate insights from the TSP approach.

The results from these workshops highlight that an ecosystem service fee that supports First Nations stewardship to be paid by tourists coming to Clayoquot Sound, is acceptable, and supports important collective priorities

Key findings

  • Participants agreed that food and energy security would be a priority in 2050 and emphasized the need for healthy forests and fisheries, and the need to reintegrate traditional foods into First Nation’s diets for food security.

  • Stakeholders believed that a vibrant and thriving First Nations communities is fundamental to a successful tourism sector, and will be crucial in 2050.

  • Ten of fourteen respondents wanted conservation & restoration as the primary source for economic growth in 2050.

  • The biggest drivers for economic change to 2050 were identified as ‘climate change’ and the environment.

  • The respondents believed there would be an increased ‘recognition of ecosystem services’, ‘opportunities in the conservation economy’, ‘recognition of ecosystems in the economy’ and ‘meaningful involvement of First Nations in the economy’.

For more information, please read the following reports:

First Nation Ecosystem Stewardship Program Workshop September 2017

Executive Summary: Visioning Clayoquot Sound's Economic Future: Transformative Scenario Planning Workshops


PHASE 3: Build & Design a pES Pilot project (MArch 2018 - ...)

A new phase of work is being planned which is applied research. The ambition of this work, conducted with partners, is to design, build and implement institutions that receive and manage ‘reciprocity’ or ‘natural capital’ fees. A pilot project will test what kind of institution should be built, and what are the rules on: decision making, managing and distributing funds, and evaluating the performance of these investments. The project will also evaluate the nature of reciprocity or natural capital fees, and how much these should be, and whether these should be voluntary or mandatory.