After 19 years at the helm of Point Blue, I have decided to step down from my role as CEO. Leading Point Blue during this time of profound environmental change—and consequently this time of great opportunity—has been a tremendous honor. I am filled with pride looking back over the past two decades on the difference we’ve made together for our collective future.
I am also deeply grateful for your support and friendship throughout my journey here…. And what an incredible journey it has been!
We’ve come a long way together
When I started in 1999, Point Blue’s annual budget was $2.5 million with 30 staff working out of a former house provided by Audubon Canyon Ranch. Today, our budget is almost $14 million with over 180 staff, we own our 20,000 square foot Petaluma headquarters, and we recently acquired the 3,000 square foot Rich Stallcup Intern House, also in Petaluma.
Building on our long term studies of land birds, seabirds, shorebirds, and vegetation, we now also study krill, whales, soil, water, carbon, microbes and more. When I began, most of our data was entered by hand, stored in paper notebooks. Today, we are an informatics powerhouse, providing cutting edge decision-support tools and managing over one billion ecological observations collected by partners from across the Western Hemisphere—all stored electronically in the “cloud”— to advance climate-smart conservation.
In 1999, we had dozens of mostly public wildlife, land and ocean management agencies as our key partners. Today we’ve expanded our circle to include over 1000 ranchers and farmers, 50,000 students and teachers, as well as land trusts and other NGOs, advancing conservation on one million privately owned acres—through our STRAW, rangeland, flooded agriculture, and meadow restoration partnerships. Our career-building efforts have fledged from informal internships to a world-renowned conservation science training program empowering youth, college students, and post-docs.
From PRBO to Point Blue Conservation Science, and from Point Reyes to the United Nations – with official observer organization status at the global climate change body (UNFCCC)—we’ve come a long way together!
Former Board Chair Ed Sarti is leading a transition committee that will engage an executive recruitment firm to launch a national search for Point Blue’s new CEO. They will manage a transparent and inclusive process engaging staff, members, partners and funders. I plan to remain on staff through the end of the year unless my successor is hired sooner.
I’m excited for this new leader to guide the organization in taking bold action to increase the pace and scale of climate-smart conservation. Thanks to your support, Point Blue is stronger than ever, with the Board and staff poised to achieve even greater impact in the years ahead.
Thank you for your continued generosity to Point Blue, particularly important during this transition. Please consider making a one-time special gift today to lay an even stronger foundation for our new CEO and to ensure Point Blue’s continued success (www.pointblue.org/donate).
This is a bittersweet time for me personally. Please know that Point Blue will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of Point Blue. Thanks again to each of you for giving me the honor of a lifetime these past two decades.
With heartfelt gratitude always,
Collaborative Accomplishments from 1999-2018
We’ve done so much together!
I often describe Point Blue as having 3 names: first name “science,” middle name “partnership” and last name “family!” Following is a list of just some of our many collaborative accomplishments since 1999 that demonstrate these essential qualities. –Ellie Cohen, June 19, 2018
Established Point Blue as an internationally recognized leader and driver for climate-smart, multi-benefit conservation.
Grew Point Blue’s budget from $2.5 million with 30 staff in 1999 to almost $14 million with 180+ staff in 2018.
Secured a strong financial foundation with outright ownership of our 20,000 square foot Petaluma headquarters, ownership of our new 12-person Rich Stallcup Intern House in Petaluma, and a board-designated reserve fund of $3 million.
Co-developed climate-smart conservation principles and catalyzed their adoption by most of our agency, NGO and government partners.
Recognized as an official Observer Organization on climate change by the United Nations global climate body (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
Brought on the award-winning STRAW program to Point Blue and established our innovative Rangeland Watershed Initiative partner biologist program.
Leveraged almost $100 million in agricultural land conservation on roughly 2 million acres of forests, meadows, rangelands and croplands, for water, birds, other wildlife, carbon sequestration and people by engaging over 1000 ranchers and farmers, dozens of public agencies (including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Forest Service), land trusts and other NGOs, as well as over 50,000 students and teachers.
Helped more than 70 city, county, regional, state, and federal agencies across 95% of the urbanized coast of California to plan for climate change through the Our Coast Our Future online planning tool.
Played a leadership science role in securing the world’s largest Marine Protected Area at the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Engaged scores of partners and over 1,200 volunteers across 12 countries across the Americas to advance climate-smart conservation for migratory shorebirds and coastal communities.
Helped ensure the protection of over 800,000 acres of post-fire forest for birds and other wildlife.
Supported the protection and restoration of populations of seabirds, whales, shorebirds, land birds and their habitats in the West, the California Current, along the Pacific Coast of the Americas, and Antarctica.
Contributed an average of 15 peer-reviewed scientific publications per year, in a growing number of high impact journals, to advance conservation science and application.
Established Point Blue as an informatics powerhouse, now managing over 1 billion ecological observations from across the Western Hemisphere and producing cutting-edge, practical web-based tools to advance climate-smart conservation from Alaska to Chile and Antarctica.
Expanded our renowned conservation science training programs, with a total of 1900 interns graduated and more than 100 graduate students who’ve helped to unlock our vast stores of ecological data.
Maintained and grew Point Blue’s uniquely valuable long-term bird and ecosystem data sets to understand ecological patterns and inform conservation management (total years as of 2018):
Palomarin Field Station, Point Reyes National Seashore (52 years)
Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge (50 years)
Coastal Snowy Plovers (40 years)
Ross Island, Antarctica (35 years)
SF Bay Tidal Marshes (22 years)
Sierra Nevada (22 years)
Vandenberg Air Force Base (19 years)
Gulf of Farallones (14 years), and,
TomKat Ranch Field Station (8 years).
Launched and grew the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership in California with our partners at The Nature Conservancy and Audubon California.
Expanded Point Blue’s active leadership in major conservation partnerships regionally, nationally and internationally including the Bird Habitat Joint Ventures, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, Migratory Shorebird Project, Sierra Meadow Partnership, National Marine Sanctuary Science Advisory Committees, CA and National Adaptation Forums, NWF’s Climate-Smart Conservation Team, and the Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Consortium, to name just a few.
Cultivated and managed an outstanding Board of Directors and staff leadership team.
Supported the development of an acclaimed group of scientists who are leaders in their fields, in high performance teaming and in high performance partnering.
Professionalized and enhanced the experience of being an employee at Point Blue including implementing a matching 401K retirement plan and paid family leave.
A letter from our Current and Immediate Past Board Chairs
Megan Colwell, Chair, Point Blue Board of Directors
Combining vision with passion and nearly two decades of hard work, Ellie Cohen transformed Point Blue from a bird and animal research organization to a powerhouse of conservation science. With that transformation came growth—more scientists, more partnerships, more revenue, and, ultimately, more impact to conserve nature and make the planet a better place for all living things.
As members of Point Blue’s Board of Directors, we have been honored to support and work alongside Ellie. Her contributions are far too numerous to fit in this note, but some deserve special attention, especially her leadership on climate change. Thanks to Ellie, Point Blue has never been a follower when it comes to climate change. She understood early on that we needed a paradigm shift in how we approached conservation science. Not everybody was ready—change is hard. With tenacity, patience and, most importantly, passion, she catalyzed the conservation community to prioritize climate change– and worked with our scientists and partners to infuse climate into all aspects of our work. Point Blue is now on the leading edge of climate-smart conservation.
Ed Sarti, Immediate Past Chair, Point Blue Board of Directors
Vision and passion are essential in a leader, but Ellie also has the business savvy to manage over 180 employees and interns, multiple offices throughout California, hundreds of contracts with federal, state and local agencies as well as projects spanning the Americas and Antarctica. None of that would be possible without assembling and nurturing the strongest leadership team–at all levels—that Point Blue has ever had, which is perhaps the best legacy any CEO could hope to leave behind.
While we were deeply saddened to learn of Ellie’s decision to leave Point Blue, she will be leaving the organization strongly positioned for future success. Thank you, Ellie. In the months ahead, we will be reaching out with our plans to celebrate her many contributions and achievements.
In the meantime, the Board of Directors has established a transition committee to identify and recruit a new Chief Executive Officer, and to ensure a smooth transition of leadership. The committee plans to engage an executive search firm to perform a national search to find a great new leader for Point Blue.
We have all done it: a greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag. Sometimes, we want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin.
Waste managers often call this wishful or aspirational recycling. But, unfortunately, putting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good. While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), we have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.
Too many of these items will contaminate a batch of recycling. That means waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure. Contaminated loads could be sent to the landfill instead….
Since 2014 it has been legal to grow hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, in small “research” batches. Legislation passed this year could open the door to full-scale farming of this versatile, drought-tolerant plant.
…..Hemp can be grown to harvest on about half as much water as corn can, for example. Hemp also tolerates a wide variety of soils and temperatures, requires no pesticides and grows extremely fast, soaring to as much as 20ft in 100 days.
Thus, if hemp eventually replaces other crops across large acreages, it could free up precious water supplies in the arid West for other uses. This could become especially important with climate change expected to shrink Western mountain snowpacks…
….CBD oil products are currently the main market for hemp growers in the United States. But there are more than 25,000 other products that can be made from hemp, given the right processing equipment, including food for people and livestock, fabrics, building materials, ethanol and biodiesel.
For all these reasons, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed hemp cultivation to resume in America for “research” purposes. The law required states to set up a permitting process, and an individual farmer’s crop could cover no more than 50 acres….
….Hemp farming may get a big boost this year with legislation in Congress that would fully legalize it as an agricultural crop. The bill has bipartisan support and was introduced by the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. If passed, it would eliminate all legal impediments to hemp-growing and make farmers eligible for many of the benefits available to other crops, including crop insurance and federal research grants.
California’s economy has surpassed that of the United Kingdom to become the world’s fifth largest, according to new federal data made public Friday.
California’s gross domestic product rose by $127 billion from 2016 to 2017, surpassing $2.7 trillion, the data said. Meanwhile, the U.K.’s economic output slightly shrank over that time when measured in U.S. dollars, due in part to exchange rate fluctuations….
It’s not just the getting there. Shopping, dining, hotel hopping all add to the tally.
Between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint increased from 3.9 to 4.5 Gt CO2-e — four times more than previous estimates — accounting for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors.
The US tops the carbon footprint ranking, followed by China, Germany and India. The majority of these carbon footprints are caused by domestic travel; business travel could not be distinguished from tourism.
The study found air travel was the key contributor to tourism’s footprint and that the carbon-intensive industry would comprise an increasingly significant proportion of global emissions as growing affluence and technological developments rendered luxury travel more affordable.
Going green may mean staying at home. Global tourism contributes about 8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, researchers report May 7 in Nature Climate Change. That carbon footprint is about three times as large as tourism-related emissions estimated by previous studies.
The jump is largely because the new study doesn’t just tally up emissions from the traveling itself, like hopping a flight, going on a road trip or taking a cruise. It also looks at the impact of the goods and services that tourists enjoy, from food to shopping to hotel stays. Who has the biggest carbon footprint? The United States topped the list, as both a top destination for tourists and a source of tourists. Other prosperous nations, such as Canada and Germany, also have a big footprint, and increasingly wealthy nations, such as China and Mexico, are catching up in this amazing race….
….It’s Earth Week, and we are joining a campaign to share stories of #EarthOptimism. I am sharing some of those optimistic stories here. You can also follow the #EarthOptimism hashtag on Twitter for more hope and inspiration, from Cool Green Science writers, Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Hugh Possingham (@HugePossum) and many others.
A common thread in many of these stories is that people kept working even when it looked like hope was lost. Keep working, stay optimistic and enjoy your world. It’s what will shape a better future for people and nature.
Saving Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers Through Science and Ingenuity….
Coastal Wetlands Saved $625 Million During Hurricane Sandy…
After 250 Years of Dams, A River Restored for Migratory Fish…
Citizen Science Is Growing…
Fighting Fire with Native Plants…
Seaweed Farming: A Gateway To Conservation and Empowerment…
Does it work? Even if you pay, you’re not stopping carbon dioxide produced by your flight from entering the atmosphere.
Reduce your number of flights per year. And if you must fly, do research and choose to fly with an airline that has a good emission reduction record. And if your airline doesn’t have a reputable scheme, you can source your own airline carbon emission program.
An alternative is “insetting”, or start your own carbon scheme, she added. “You can apply it to yourself. Do you offset every one of your flights, or do you save the money to help buy solar panels for your house?”
Yes … insofar as it’s better than nothing, said James Higham from the University of Otago in New Zealand. “On the positive side of things, carbon offsetting does, perhaps, prod users to think about their personal carbon profile.”
But even if you pay, you’re not stopping carbon dioxide produced by your flight from entering the atmosphere.
Land-based carbon offsetting, such as planting trees, might help suck in some atmospheric carbon dioxide, but nowhere near as much as flights churn out.
“If you plant a tree, or plant a million trees, that doesn’t really solve the problem because the carbon has been emitted and it’s in the atmosphere,” Professor Higham said.
“[The trees] may absorb some of the carbon dioxide, but then you have to maintain those trees….
….What else can flyers do to reduce their carbon footprint?
“We shouldn’t be flying as much,” Professor Ritchie said. “Let’s be clear about that.” Professor Higham agrees. “We need to really think about air travel,” he said. “I’m not saying for a minute that people stop flying and I’m not saying there should be less tourism.
If you must fly, try to do a bit of research and choose to fly with an airline that has a good emission reduction record, Professor Becken said. And if your airline doesn’t have a reputable scheme, you can source your own airline carbon emission program.
There are plenty of not-for-profit organisations such as Atmosfair in Germany, MyClimate in Switzerland and Climate Care in the UK that calculate your carbon offset payments and direct that money to their own projects.
An alternative to offsetting is “insetting”, or start your own carbon scheme, she added. “You can apply it to yourself. Do you offset every one of your flights, or do you save the money to help buy solar panels for your house?”
In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, The Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever.
The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change….
Ignore the warnings of scientists at your peril. That is a very valuable lesson our nation can learn from a horrific weather-related tragedy that befell London in 1952, bathing the city in toxic smog that claimed the lives of thousands of people. Had London acted as had been suggested after a nearly identical disaster struck Donora, Pa., four years earlier, many deaths could have been avoided.
The yellow-brown “killer fog,” as it came to be called, reduced visibility to two feet. Thousands of tons of sulfurous coal smoke and diesel fumes were trapped over a 30-mile area by a cold, moist temperature inversion, covering London with a blanket of poisonous air. In less than a week, the fog killed about 4,000 people, and another 8,000 died prematurely in the months that followed.
British scientists had been warning of such a disaster, but alas, the protective measures they suggested were approved by lawmakers but never implemented. To make matters worse, the government ignored its meteorologists’ warning that an extraordinarily dense fog was about to descend on London.
It took nearly four years for Parliament to pass the Clean Air Act of 1956 that restricted the burning of coal in urban areas and helped homeowners convert from coal to less harmful ways to heat their homes.
The parallels of this catastrophic weather event to current concerns about climate change are hard to ignore. Already as the world’s climate warms, there has been an increase in devastating droughts and life- and property-destroying wildfires, mudslides and floods.
All the while the polar and Arctic ice caps are melting and, despite dire warnings from highly reputable scientists, the current administration is taking little action to protect its citizens from future climactic disasters that scientists say are sure to come. Instead, there has been a push to bring back coal and rescind regulatory measures that helped to clean the air and water of pollutants.
Likewise, a loosening of regulations and appointments of agency administrators with strong ties to the industries they oversee threaten the safety and healthfulness of the foods and beverages we consume and feed to our most vulnerable: children, the elderly and those with compromised immunity. Agencies tasked with protecting public health are under fire and working with diminished resources.
Must it take a calamity, like an outbreak of food poisoning that kills tens of thousands or a deadly epidemic of an infectious disease, to awaken Congress to the dangers that lie ahead and goad it to protect the citizens it was elected to serve?
History is filled with examples of scientifically sound guidance that was ignored or pilloried by those in power. In the late 1990s, for example, half a dozen major health agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, endorsed a national needle exchange program to curb the spread of H.I.V./AIDS. But President Bill Clinton rejected the advice, and the resulting H.I.V. infections cost the health care system as much as half a billion dollars.
Last March, Scott Pruitt, newly appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency, rejected the previous administration’s proposal to ban agricultural use of a Dow Chemical Company pesticide, chlorpyrifos. The agency’s scientific advisory panel had concluded in 2016 that children risked irreversible brain damage and neurodevelopmental problems from very low levels of exposure to food residues of the chemical, which continues to be widely used on fruits and vegetables.
In hopes of bolstering the coal industry, Mr. Pruitt, who has rejected established climate science, has also scrapped regulations in the Clean Power Plan put in place by the Obama administration to minimize heat-trapping pollution. A warming trend in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic in recent decades has been strongly associated with the spread of potentially deadly marine pathogens like Vibrio cholerae, the cause of cholera, and V. parahaemolyticus, a cause of food poisoning, and could lead to widespread outbreaks.
Food safety measures are also in jeopardy. Enforcement has been delayed indefinitely of crucial rules in the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted seven years ago with bipartisan support to protect consumers from exposure to dangerous pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. Some of those who harvest, package and store foods produced on farms are now exempt from the act’s rules to prevent contamination of the food supply. Yet, each year 48 million people in this country are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from preventable food-borne diseases.
The lax food safety rules of the European Union should be a lesson to heed. France and its allies are currently reeling under massive recalls of baby formula and other products contaminated with salmonella, a crisis said to stem from weak regulations that allowed tainted products to make their way into supermarkets and pharmacies even weeks after the problem was discovered.
Nutritional depletion from rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, is another risk to the healthfulness of the American food supply, according to some experts. Dr. Samuel S. Myers, principal research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues linked significant reductions in zinc, iron and protein in staple grain crops like rice and wheat and smaller reductions in protein in legumes to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air.
The researchers demonstrated these effects by growing 41 different varieties of staple crops under conditions likely to exist by 2050 unless there is a major decline in carbon dioxide pollution.
In an interview, Dr. Myers explained that even a small reduction in the protein content of grains could increase carbohydrate consumption and raise the risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that already endanger our overweight population.
Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming can provide not only long-term benefits for public health but also have immediate health “co-benefits,” according to Dr. Andy Haines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
An increase in walking and cycling instead of a reliance on fuel-powered vehicles, for example, would help to counter diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic ailments linked to a sedentary lifestyle. A shift to “environmentally more sustainable healthy diets,” he notes, would not only help to counter greenhouse gases but also lead to reductions in all-cause mortality.
Innovative approaches to addressing groundwater deficits from charges for going over assigned water budgets and water trading to groundwater bank accounts are working in CA’s Kern County.
Emphasizing approaches that let growers decide what’s best for them—whether it’s helping them put unused water into a market or compensating them for using their land for recharge– is a key strategy to achieving groundwater sustainability.
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires communities with ongoing groundwater deficits to bring their aquifers into balance in the coming years. This will be a difficult and complex process, but it’s also an opportunity to devise workable solutions at the community level. We talked to Eric Averett of the Rosedale–Rio Bravo Water Storage District about groundwater management innovations being tried in his Kern County district and lessons learned that might have wider application.
…Eric Averett: The most challenging area is managing and mitigating impacts associated with demand reduction. Rather than mandating that individual landowners reduce demand, our district has pursued a path that we think gives individuals greater flexibility. The idea is that every acre will be assigned a water budget based on what the district can provide or considers sustainable. If a landowner uses more than that amount, it triggers a water charge. The district will use those funds to develop water supply programs or purchase land from willing sellers to retire it from production. Either way, this system doesn’t take anything away from landowners’ ability to manage their own water, it just gives them more options.
Another important area we’re looking at is water trading within our district’s boundaries. We’ve implemented a pilot study that empowers landowners to act as buyers or sellers in managing their water resources. We think water trading will be an essential tool to getting aquifers into balance and maximizing the value of the resource. For example, during a drought, a small grower with row crops may find greater value in fallowing a field and selling the water. At the same time, a grower who may be short of water and facing the loss of a permanent crop may enter the market as a buyer. If we don’t find a way to create these buy/sell opportunities, we strand the asset.
A third area we’re working on is creating individual groundwater bank accounts for landowners. We have a number of landowners who’ve committed to make their land available for recharge in exchange for a portion of the recharged water being credited to their account. Alternatively, some landowners have acquired a source of water and asked the district to use it for recharge on their behalf. Both types of programs were tested successfully in 2017, and we look forward to expanding the concept. Ultimately, we’re looking at ways the district can assist landowners in becoming sustainable and mitigating SGMA impacts….