Focus Groups on Payments for Ecosystem Services in Clayoquot Sound

Building on previous work that explored the potential for Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Clayoquot Sound, Gathering Voices Society conducted five focus groups in the region between March and April 2016. The focus groups were composed of representatives from business, First Nations, the Tofino Mayor and Council, NGOs and individual tourists. These discussions were designed to further dialogue on PES in the region, with the following goals in mind: (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); and (3) to explore the potential of PES for First Nations and describe what this involvement will look like.

To answer the first question, the focus groups revealed that PES is occurring in Clayoquot Sound with First Nations, but these arrangements and activities are not formalized. The majority of these programs are based around ‘Cultural Services’ and are informal. The problem with these regimes being informal is that most ecosystem users simply opt-out from paying and free-ride, and the limited payments are insufficient to manage effectively. Advancing dialogue and understanding on PES can help legitimate these programs, and support a process of formalizing and institutionalizing these programs. PES was highlighted as a mechanism in focus groups to help resolve any trade-offs and align the incentives of competing resource users in Clayoquot. PES also has the potential to address distributive concerns among First Nations through financial and non-financial payoffs.

In answering the second question, the results highlight that PES is acceptable to most participants in focus groups. However, there are competing views, as PES may involve a re-distribution of property rights and jurisdiction for land use and land management, which is bound up in power struggles and political grievances.  Some business operators view PES as creating additional costs which could threaten the competitiveness of the tourism economy, particularly if these costs do not lead to tangible benefits. But PES was also viewed as creating better management outcomes and establishing partnerships with First Nations, which is important given the changing political, social and legal landscape. 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, and it offers potential livelihoods outcomes and employment outcomes to members, which are important to these communities who feel they are consistently missing out on the benefits from the economy and are being bullied on their constrained land-base. 

The third question is around the potential for PES in Clayoquot and how First Nations can participate. The results highlight that contractual arrangements are emerging between businesses and First Nations organizations to generate aesthetic, educational and recreational outcomes through stewardship and management, and engagement with tourists. These programs may be expanded and achieve a scale where larger management interventions can be achieved, with broader outcomes to the population. There are some key institutional design questions that need to be addressed, for instance, legitimating PES so that is supported by ecosystem users, which can mitigate free-riding ensure adequate funding.

PES may require the formation of new forms of multi-stakeholder and First Nations governance. These groups may foster understanding and consensus among different actors through group deliberation. Group deliberation, like that in focus groups, can also provide an opportunity to re-affirm collective values and instill these in other stakeholders. Exploring institutional is important to the success of PES going forward and should be a priority for further research.