Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Science News: Birds in the Valley, Restoration in the City

Point Blue Avian Habitat Ecologist Blake Barbaree safely holding a radio-tagged Long-billed Dowitcher in the Central Valley. Credit: Courtesy of Blake Barbaree/Point Blue.

Teaming up for Drought Response

As Californians work to address the increasing threat of severe drought as part of climate change, Point Blue is playing a critical role in making sure that waterbirds have a voice at the table. Over the last three months, and continuing into this winter, Point Blue, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, California Rice Commission, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl, California Department of Water Resources, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Delta Conservancy, and private landowners has been implementing emergency drought response programs to support wintering waterbird populations in the Central Valley, where wetland habitats have shrunk by about 90% of historic availability. For example, BirdReturns, a program with the vision to deliver an additional 100,000 acres of flooded habitat by 2030 for migrating and wintering waterbirds, provides incentives for private landowners to flood agricultural lands and wetlands as habitat for waterbirds when and where they need it most in the Central Valley.

This photo is the after of a two photo before after series at El Polin Spring, taken six years after initial ecological restoration and replanting in that area. Presidio Park Stewards volunteers and staff can be seen planting and weeding during a Wednesday program.

The importance of Urban Restoration

Restoring lost or degraded ecosystems has emerged as one of our most powerful tools to arrest the loss of biodiversity, combat climate change, and improve overall human health and well-being. 2021 marks the start of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which is a coordinated “global rallying cry to heal our planet” in which Point Blue is proud to take part. And the UN Decade effort explicitly calls for urban restoration.

The Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy were visionary in their pursuit of restoration in San Francisco’s Presidio, and since 2001 they have restored 78 acres. Point Blue is playing a critical role in measuring the success of this effort through our bird monitoring science. We found that the restoration is working for urban birds: of the 16 focal species we examined, fully 80% were increasing or stable.

Read more about the value of urban restoration and the work that Point Blue is doing to measure bird response in this unique environment in our recent, collaborative blog post.

Erika Foster, PhD, working out the upcoming carbon monitoring protocol in the field at a STRAW restoration site. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.

Digging Deeper into Soil Carbon

Point Blue is innovating and evolving in the working lands space as one of the ways we are addressing climate change. “Working lands” encompass private and public lands that are managed by farmers, ranchers, and/or agency partners for wildlife, ecosystem function, and agricultural needs. We’ve put our strength of scientific rigor into action in many ways, including implementing and coordinating the Rangeland Monitoring Network. We’re now taking our science a step further and literally digging in to answer some key questions about how much carbon various conservation practices sequester above and below ground. We’ve recently hired Soil Ecologist Erika Foster, who is working closely with Chelsea Carey, Working Lands Research Director & Principal Soil Ecologist, and other staff and partners to set up and implement a set of protocols to move the work forward. Read more about the effort here and stay tuned for progress.

News Bites

Hooves on the Ground, Wings in the Sky. Our Working Lands Group Director Dr. Libby Porzig is featured in Audubon California’s new Conservation Ranching Initiative film discussing the value of regenerative grazing. Watch the 6-minute film on YouTube.

First Restorations with Students Since COVID-19. After a year’s forced break, in December our Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed Program will be once again working with students and teachers and we couldn’t be more excited. Keep an eye out for social media and other coverage!

Forecasting Central Valley’s Wetlands. To support coordinated conservation, wetland restoration, and climate adaptation planning, Point Blue teamed up with USGS, TNC, NASA, and USFWS to develop a story map tool that shows future scenarios of the Central Valley’s seasonally flooded cropland and wetland habitat based on the State’s most recent climate and land use projections. Explore it here.

Shorebird monitoring season is here. Want to help track shorebirds who travel from Alaska to Chile every year? Care to be part of one of the longest running migratory studies in the Western Hemisphere? The season is upon us, so head over to our Shorelines web page to learn more and find out how to get involved with the Pacific Flyway Shorebird Study and the Migratory Shorebird Project.

COP26 Reflections. Read about our participation in the two-week UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland and what we came away with from our CEO, Mani Oliva, in his recent blog post.


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