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: Farallones Restoration, Sierra Meadows and Land Trusts, and more

Adult ashy storm-petrel captured during night time mist-netting on the Farallon Islands. Credit:Ilana Nimz/Point Blue/USFWS.

Species Recovery within Reach on the Farallones

Our science shows striking species recovery potential through the removal of invasive house mice from Southeast Farallon Island. There is an intricate relationship between the house mouse, the Burrowing Owl, and the threatened Ashy Storm-Petrel on the island. Owls, which naturally stop at the island during migration, stay longer than they normally would because of the abundance of house mice. Owls eating invasive mice doesn’t sound so bad, and it’s not. The problem is that the house mouse population naturally crashes at the exact time that Ashy Storm-Petrels return to the island, prior to their breeding season. The owls then switch to eating the petrels, which is a problem. We’ve determined that an 80% reduction of storm-petrel predation by owls will result in a stable seabird population with the potential to increase. And this reduction is what we expect to happen through removal of the house mice. The mice also have a negative effect on other native and endemic species on the island, like the Farallon Arboreal Salamander, the Farallon Camel Cricket, and native endemic plant species. Read more in our recent publication brief and San Francisco Chronicle article.

Point Blue Sierra Meadow Adaptation Leader Marian Vernon (left) with Central Sierra Program Leader, Alissa Fogg in one of the meadows we are helping to restore in the Sierra. Credit: Lishka Arata.

Helping Land Trusts Secure a Healthy, Climate-Smart Future

In the last month we’ve presented our “climate-smart land trusts” framework at workshops to nearly 100 land trust partners. This framework provides land trust staff with the concepts, principles, and tools required to assess climate vulnerabilities. They can then use that information to prioritize projects and design climate-smart stewardship and restoration actions to increase resiliency. Marian Vernon, Point Blue’s Sierra Meadow Adaptation Leader, is leading these workshops. She’s working to catalyze partnerships with land trusts in the Sierra and beyond to scale up meadow restoration on lands managed by land trusts. Sierra meadows are a key component in storing water and carbon for the entire state. They also provide critical wildlife habitat to common and threatened species. Land trusts are nonprofits that work to protect and steward privately owned land. According to the California Council of Land Trusts, California is home to more than 150 land trusts that have protected more than 2.5 million acres. So, each land trust partner that we reach can have a huge impact in increasing the pace and scale of climate-smart conservation.

Screenshot of the Water Tracker showing the new vegetation layer. Credit: Point Blue.

New Features in Central Valley Water Tracker

Managing water is one of the key challenges California faces in a climate-changed present and future, especially in our great Central Valley. That’s why Point Blue and partners built Water Tracker, an automated system that provides up-to-date and accurate data on surface water distributions in the Central Valley. Water and wetland managers use it when making decisions, such as determining where the best places are to add water for the millions of waterbirds that rely on the Central Valley or to better understand the impacts of extreme drought on waterbird habitat availability. Recently, we added three new features to the tracker: water coverage maps that are corrected for cloud cover; the ability to download custom data and summaries for specific areas of interest; and map layers for wetland plants, thanks to our collaboration with USGS. These new features allow managers to have a more detailed and accurate view of what’s happening with surface water in the Central Valley. Visit and explore Water Tracker here.

News Bites

We can Win at This. Read this recent op-ed from Point Blue CEO Manuel Oliva on how we can win on climate and conservation in Bay Nature Magazine.

Third Year of Sierra Meadow Restoration. In October Point Blue brought 185 students from Chester and Westwood, CA schools out to restore 175 acres of Sierra meadows. We’re proud and honored to be able to empower this younger generation of conservation stewards and climate leaders.

Progress on Sea Level Rise Preparedness. Coastal Adaptation Program Leader Maya Hayden had a whopping 171 participants attend her partnership-led webinar rolling out the new Sea Level Rise Adaptation Framework. Implementation of the Framework will make huge strides to integrate nature-based measures as we prepare the California coast for rising seas.

New Penguin Season, New Technology. Adélie Penguins are returning to their breeding grounds at Cape Royds and Crozier and our biologists are traveling there to meet them. This year we’re testing out the capability of drones to help us get a better count of the number of penguins in each colony.

Point Reyes National Seashore General Management Plan. Many of our supporters know of and are concerned about the in-progress update to the Seashore’s General Management Plan, which will have implications for ecology and ranching operations. Please view Point Blue’s comment letter on the Environmental Impact Statement for the General Management Plan Amendment. You won’t be surprised at our science-based, partnership-driven recommendations and input.

Point Blue and Fire. In case you missed it, read Point Blue CEO Manuel Oliva’s recent blog post that includes some of the ways that Point Blue is working to help California’s wildlife and human communities live with fire.


Soundscapes to Landscapes Bird Blitzes. Soundscapes to Landscapes (S2L) is hosting bimonthly evening Bird Blitzes at Point Blue’s Petaluma Headquarters. The project is bringing interested volunteers together to help identify bird calls in sound recordings. No prior knowledge of bird calls necessary! Upcoming dates are November 19th, December 2nd, and December 17th. Food and beverages are provided. Contact Project Coordinator Rose Snyder at or 707-781-2555 ext 420 to sign up or get more information.

Photo: Recent Soundscapes to Landscapes Bird Blitz at Point Blue’s Petaluma Headquarters. Credit: Soundscapes to Landscapes.

Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon: There’s still time to donate! The official counting end date of October 15th has passed, but all of our teams are still accepting donations. You can help us meet our $100,000 goal. We’re so close! Visit our Bird-A-Thon web page and show your support today.

Photo: Petaluma Pied-billed Grebes Bird-A-Thon team, a collaboration between Point Blue and the Petaluma Pie Company. Credit: Raven.

Scientist Spotlight: Kyle Marsh, Informatics Engineer/Partner Biologist

Kyle Marsh came to Point Blue shortly after graduating in 2013 with a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He has interned at Point Blue’s Palomarin and Farallon Island Field Stations and he has been a seasonal field biologist for our Rangeland Monitoring Network. He’s currently the Partner Biologist based in Alameda County where he’s worked on exciting projects like driving partnerships and facilitating funding for compost application over huge amounts of public lands around Altamont pass with the goal of increasing the land’s ability to absorb and store carbon. In the last year he’s branched out and now spends half of his time as an engineer on Point Blue’s Informatics Team.

We asked Kyle what motivated him to join the informatics team, what informatics is, and what he’s most excited about working on right now on his diverse plate. Here’s what he said:

“The informatics team at Point Blue has produced many powerful applications that help our scientists and their partners increase the pace, scale, and impact of climate-smart conservation. I used some of them on a daily basis in my work as a Partner Biologist, like centralized data entry portals that allow me to see what’s happening across a landscape. After seeing the power of informatics in my own experience as a biologist I knew that it was something I wanted to do myself.

“Informatics at Point Blue is a combination of software engineering and critical conservation research that helps communicate scientific findings, inform future management decisions, and foster long term datasets.

“Currently, I am most excited about finishing a web application that helps Partner Biologists analyze and explore soil, plant, and bird data they collect on working lands across California. I personally know how much time and effort this application can save for Partner Biologists, so I am looking forward to seeing it used by my peers.”