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Why Give | Impact stories

For the future of forest conservation, Dr. Tara Martin has good news

Dr. Tara Martin’s research examines various pressures on the environment, on species at risk, and how to translate these findings into action.

June 17, 2022

“I want to give future generations hope.”

It’s an ambitious goal, but for Dr. Tara Martin, Liber Ero Chair in Conservation in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at UBC, it’s not just wishful thinking.

“I think we’re living in a time when we have so much negative news, and the world seems very dire,” says Dr. Martin. “But I want to give them hope that we are finding solutions and implementing those solutions … and we’re seeing species recover. We’re recovering viable salmon populations. We’re recovering migratory birds. We’re restoring amazing Garry oak ecosystems in southwestern British Columbia.”

This optimistic outlook informs all of Dr. Martin’s research. But she also emphasizes the importance of taking a pragmatic approach, to ensure her work produces viable solutions.

“My research is around finding solutions to complex conservation problems,” says Dr. Martin. “The tools we develop in my lab using math, artificial intelligence, economics and social sciences, we bring all of these things together to develop these packages, or prospectuses, for investing in conservation and the actions that are needed to stem climate change, to recover these species at risk, to recover these ecosystems that we all care about. The tools that we have developed are lightning speed faster than the tools that are currently being used.”

The funding for Dr. Martin’s research chair and work is made by donors who see the value in her vision. Dr. Martin has received $3 million from Val and Dick Bradshaw, with UBC adding in $2 million for a $5 million chair.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for the generosity of Val and Dick Bradshaw. I returned to Canada ten years ago after spending 20 years working in Australia for the National Science Agency,” says Dr. Martin. “I had a vision of creating a centre of excellence for conservation decision-making, and I was fortunate to be introduced to Val and Dick, and I shared that vision with them. They got it immediately.”

UBC alumnus Reid Carter was so inspired by Tara’s vision that he invested $1.5M in her work.

“More recently, I was introduced to Reid Carter and his wife Laura … and through their generosity, I’ve expanded and scaled up the work that we’re doing outside of British Columbia. So we’re able to expand the breadth of the work that we’re doing and having a very big impact [not just] in Canada, but also beyond.”

Dr. Martin believes it is time to transform the forestry sector—specifically its approach to conservation, which has had a troubled history with Indigenous communities.

“Conservation has been a very colonial exercise in the past,” says Dr. Martin. “It’s been about locking up lands in parks and reserves—and has perpetuated a lot of land dispossession for nations and Indigenous peoples around the world.

“We need to recognize that these lands have evolved over millennia with Indigenous stewardship. We must make the connections with Indigenous people again that these lands require.”

With this urgency in mind, Dr. Martin has words for the forward-thinking donors who have helped her work—and those who might consider doing so.

“I would say to donors that supporting science is one of the most exciting and impactful things you can do,” says Dr. Martin. “Funding for conservation is not huge. Without the generosity of donors, we really wouldn’t be able to do this important work.”