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Critical to meeting the growing demand for PRBO's expertise across western North America and beyond.

A New Center for PRBO's Work

Ellie M. Cohen


The wind picked up and the fog moved in, but the kids were undeterred. They made their way about one-third of a mile up the Shollenberger Park trail in Petaluma. Here they stopped to observe nesting shorebirds at the northernmost reaches of San Francisco Bay. Sue Abbott, PRBO Education Specialist, asked the ten-year-olds to write down their observations. First they should note where they were and the current weather conditions.

How many birds were they observing? Were the birds foraging for food, roosting or preening? What were the differences among the birds they saw? What might these birds tell us about the health of this particular habitat and ecosystem?

The budding biologists drew pictures, took notes of what they saw, and dabbled in one of the most essential aspects of field biology--keeping a field notebook of their observations. After their diligent field session, they returned to their classroom where they discussed the unique features of shorebirds that allow them to migrate hundreds and often thousands of miles between their breeding grounds and wintering grounds, year after year.

Sue had not only infused the students with a passion for science and environmental stewardship, she had also provided another local teacher with the tools to train future students in the basics of conservation biology, using birds as indicators of ecosystem health.
PRBO looks forward to expanding outreach opportunities at Shollenberger Park, in cooperation with new partners such as Petaluma Wetlands Alliance. Photo © Gerald Moore / Petaluma Wetlands Alliance.

The demand and urgent need for educating young people about conservation science exceeds our current capacity, yet our pending move to Petaluma offers some exciting opportunities.

PRBO's soon-to-be-constructed San Francisco Bay Research Center adjacent to Shollenberger Park and the Gray Ranch wetlands will address regional conservation priorities, as highlighted in this Observer. Our new Center will also be critical to meeting the growing demand for PRBO's expertise across western North America, the northern Pacific Ocean, and beyond.

PRBO's new offices will support dramatically increased outreach to school children as well as adults. We envision a true center for conservation science learning: a well-equipped facility where science educators can find resources on the San Francisco Bay Estuary as well as the wide range of ecosystems in which PRBO works. Directly off the Shollenberger Park trail, the new building will include a visitor center, a large presentation room for trainings and workshops, and outdoor displays.

I am eager to explore new partnership possibilities with outstanding local organizations such as the Sonoma Land Trust, Madrone Audubon Society, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, and Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, as well as Community Foundation Sonoma County, the City of Petaluma, and the County of Sonoma. Under the leadership of Sarah Warnock, PRBO's Director of Education and Outreach, we hope to facilitate a significantly larger conservation science education program for the Bay Area's diverse communities--vital to inspiring a new generation of scientists and environmental stewards among students of all ages!

When I observed Sue Abbott and the dozen ten-year-olds last spring at Shollenberger Park, I imagined our new Center bustling with scientists, conservation biology interns, NGO and agency partners, school kids, long-time members, new volunteers, and nature lovers on their afternoon walk just stopping by. I envisioned how much more we could do, through the study of birds and their environments, to conserve the diversity and abundance of life in all its magnificence. Thanks to each of you for helping to make this dream a reality.

For more information on PRBO's new Center, please see www.prbo.org or call Matt Leffert at 415-868-1221, ext. 320.