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We are infusing our strategic efforts with greater focus, efficiencies and vitality.

A World of Change: In Nature and at PRBO

Ellie M. Cohen


Ellie M. Cohen. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary Club.
Writing on this 41st Earth Day, April 22, 2011, I am inspired by the successes of the past four decades and hopeful about the difference we can make in the decades ahead.

The 1970s saw the passage of powerful environmental laws that, combined with the hard work of so many, saved species, cleaned up waterways, and cleaned the air we breathe. Yet the speed at which environmental change is now accelerating demands new approaches. Conservation science, practice and policy must embody ongoing flexibility, responsiveness and adaptability to meet the growing challenges.

And that is just what PRBO is working towards, building on our own 40-plus-year history of accomplishments to reduce the negative impacts of changes in land-use, climate and the ocean on birds and ecosystems. This is a tough task. Loss and compromise are inevitable—but much can be preserved.

While PRBO works in other parts of the West and as far away as Antarctica, we have initially prioritized our focus on California’s lands and the adjacent ocean. California is home to a significant sampling of our planet’s wonders as well as challenges. It has fantastic biodiversity, a vast coastline alongside a rich ocean upwelling zone, a huge economy, and a strong, non-partisan, environmental ethic. However, the state also faces severe water resource limits, growing climate change impacts including more extreme drought, wildfires and floods, an increasing human population, and continuing habitat loss and fragmentation. As we succeed in finding solutions for the challenges facing California’s natural systems, other parts of the country and world benefit.

Regrouping For The Future

Thus, we have regrouped PRBO’s extraordinary staff according to the major biomes of California—California Current, Pacific Coast and Central Valley, San Francisco Bay, and Sierra Nevada. Integrated across all of these are three other groups vital to our success: Climate Change and Informatics; Emerging Programs and Partnerships; and Outreach and Education. This Observer samples from the work currently under way within our new groups (also see our new staff listing on page 15).

Through these new groupings, we are infusing our strategic efforts with greater focus, efficiencies and vitality. As examples of the achievements we are aiming for, below are highlights of recent progress by PRBO with our partners:

•Identified ocean food web hotspots for protection in the vast California Current, to safeguard food resources as ocean conditions becoming increasingly variable for seabirds, whales and fish that migrate across the Pacific.

•Developed an on-line mapping tool for managers and policy makers, showing sea-level rise scenarios for San Francisco Bay tidal wetlands and birds over the next 100 years, to guide acquisition and restoration priorities today.

•Initiated a new private lands program to advance watershed conservation, enhance water retention and carbon sequestration in rangeland soils, and increase the use of incentive programs that pay landowners for practices that benefit birds and ecosystems.

•Began assessing impacts of changes in water availability, precipitation and temperature on shorebirds and other waterbirds in the Central Valley, to sustain critical wetland habitats such as rice fields in the face of expected future water shortages.

•Provided design, management and evaluation recommendations for Sierra meadow restorations, to enhance wildlife and water function in the face of future reductions in permanent snowpack and other changes.

•Catalyzed the multi-partner California Environmental Change Network to identify impacts on land and at sea and to guide effective conservation in the face of accelerating change.

•Recommended eco-friendly approaches to urgently needed renewable energy installations.

Thanks to your generosity and partnership, PRBO scientists will continue to assess and anticipate environmental change, advancing our ability to protect species and nature’s processes that we all rely on. In another 40 years, on Earth Day 2051, I’m hopeful that we’ll be celebrating many more conservation achievements!