The legitimacy of wetland decisions depends on how science and values are integrated and reflected in wetland management decisions. Natural capital and ecosystem services (ES) have become integral to how we think about ecosystem management however there is no consensus on how these concepts should be applied in management. Through the example of Alberta’s wetland policy, we show how policies designed to mainstream natural capital and ES in decision-making are aligned with liberal governance arrangements that emerged in the nineteenth century. There is a governance gap between individual wetland decisions and collective ecological outcomes. The Alberta wetland policy highlights three challenges to embracing the natural capital metaphor in a liberal government context: lack of consensus on policy objectives; case by case enforcement of policy leading to continued wetland drainage; and minimal consequences for non-compliance. The combination of norms about what is fair in terms of government intervention in land use decisions and scientific uncertainty about wetland ecosystem function makes it difficult to achieve consensus on limits to wetland loss contributing to continued loss of wetland ecological function. The discussion highlights the necessity of renewed political discourse about freedom, power, and justice in relation to collective economic and ecological security.

Weber, M., Krogman, M., Foote, L. & Rooney, R. (2017) Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. Online first.