Making Smart Conservation Decisions: Tara Martin takes ecosystem-wide approach to species protection

As one makes one’s bed, one finds it. The French proverb from around the middle of the past century is being realized as human activities make their mark on everything from weather patterns to species extinction at an alarming rate.

Approximately 713 wildlife are currently listed in Canada’s Species at Risk Act. In British Columbia, home to the most biodiversity in the country, widespread habitat changes are threatening the survival of many of the province’s native flora and fauna.

UBC Forestry Professor Tara Martin’s Conservation Decisions Lab is taking a big picture view of the cumulative impacts threatening species loss.

She and her colleagues designed the Priority Threat Management framework to identify actions that could feasibly lead to the greatest species survival and ecosystem resilience. Recommendations could include modifying or relocating industry, fishing, forestry, mining, urbanization and other activities located near ecologically sensitive areas to prevent further ecosystem degradation.

“Our framework is transparent, repeatable and robust to uncertainty, and will deliver costed portfolios of options which inform how to recover and protect the places and species we care most about with the least impact to societies and the economy,” says Tara, who holds the UBC Liber Ero Chair in Conservation.

Tara Martin standing in flower field

Informed by conservation decision science, the approach combines mathematics, socio-economics, operations research and applied ecology to identify which species have the greatest chance of survival in priority areas.

It’s a tactic that spoke to Reid Carter (BSc forest biology’79, MSc soil science’83, RPF), whose $1.5 million gifts is making possible the launch of Tara’s Priority Threat Management initiative in BC’s Salish Sea and Central Coast areas.

A former lead of Brookfield Timberlands Management’s investment management organization and past president and CEO of Acadian Timber, Reid spent much of his early adulthood researching and working in forest ecology and forest soils while at UBC Forestry.

“A lot of the world’s ecosystems don’t receive enough attention, and a lot of conservation work is focused on saving one species at a time,” says Reid. “It can feel like playing whack-a-mole, as this approach only addresses one perceived problem in isolation from everything else.”

“Tara’s Priority Threat Management offers a much more thoughtful and holistic approach, and one that I believe has a much greater chance of success,” he adds. “Her risk and cost adjusted process maximize the positive impact human actions can have on species and ecosystem health and survival as a whole.”

Data from Tara’s work will be transferred into timeline-framed action plans that identify key stakeholder involvement and funds needed to make it happen.

Her team is creating ecological data maps using state-of-the-art LiDAR light detection and ranging equipment – the technology’s aerial light pulses render three-dimensional images of the surface characteristics of a landscape – along with aerial and underwater drone footage. Open-source software developed for the project will help process data and crunch the numbers.

Tara and her team also work with Indigenous governments and different levels within federal, provincial and municipal agencies to formulate their recommendations.

“There is a huge knowledge gap that needs to be filled to slow and stop further biodiversity loss in Canada,” says Tara. “Working with our government and non-government partners and stakeholders, this project can produce actionable conservation plans for BC, Canada and beyond.” 


Led by our very own Development and Alumni Engagement Office, and shaped by valuable feedback from our alumni community, the Spring 2022 issue of Branchlines showcases the dynamic and multifaceted fields of forestry. 

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