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: Sea Level Rise Planning, Sierra Meadow Conservation, New Plant Nursery, and more

Bothin marsh, Marin County. Credit: Marin Community Development Agency staff.

Planning with Nature

How can we transition from vulnerable to resilient? We think nature is a big part of the answer. Point Blue Conservation Science and the San Francisco Estuary Institute, in partnership with the County of Marin, just released the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Framework. The Framework is a user guide to help planners and others include nature-based strategies to address sea level rise hazards. It helps planners determine which nature-based measures are suitable given specific site conditions and desired outcomes. It also offers an approach for transparently considering multiple benefits to evaluate trade-offs among strategies. Nature-based solutions to sea level rise include measures like restoring coarse beaches where appropriate to reduce wave energy, conserving and restoring wetlands that can act as buffers, and preparing “migration spaces” that marshes can transition into as sea levels rise. Learn more, register for our upcoming webinar, download our 2-pager, and access the full user guide here.

Willow Flycatcher, an indicator of healthy meadows. Credit:Kelly Colgan Azar, FLICKR Commons.

20 Years of Meadow Bird Research

More than half of the meadows in the Sierra are degraded and drier than they once were, and contain fewer willows than they once did. This is a problem because wildlife depend on these unique habitats to find food, seek shelter, and raise their young. Meanwhile, people depend on meadows for water and carbon storage. In response, we are leading the Sierra Meadows Partnership and are spearheading meadow restoration and conservation in the Sierra Nevada. We’re also continuing to track meadow health and value through bird banding, a method of tracking the birth rates and overall survival of bird populations by safely capturing, marking, recording information, and releasing individual birds. This August, we celebrated 20 years of continuous bird banding in the meadows of Lassen National Forest. Using these data we’ve observed that, in the past, healthy, wet meadows have been extremely important to birds in dry years, but less so in wet years. However, in 2019, which was preceded by one of the wettest and snowiest years in our dataset, we saw capture rates that were much higher than we would have predicted. As we progress further into an unprecedented and uncertain future our long-term studies can elucidate how ecological phenomenon change. If our data continue to show that these wet, willow-filled meadows are vital late summer refugia for birds even in wet years, the importance of continued and increased meadow restoration and conservation is underscored.

STRAW native plant nursery at Casa Grande High School, Petaluma. Credit: Brianne Bishop/Point Blue Intern.

Restoration Season New Year

The beginning of the school year also marks the beginning of a new habitat restoration year for Point Blue’s STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed) program. In every new year we reflect on our accomplishments and get excited about new areas to expand into. Last “year” (September 2018- August 2019) our STRAW program engaged 2,726 students, planted over 5,200 plants in over 9 acres of riparian and wetland habitat, and engaged with 205 other community members. One of our newest expansions in the STRAW program is the renovation and development of a native plant nursery in partnership with Casa Grande High School in Petaluma. It took our staff, interns, and volunteers months to set up a state of the art facility, but it’s officially done as of August 2019 and ready to engage even more students in an even bigger picture of what it means to restore our ecosystems.

News Bites

Bird Conservation Leadership. Join us in congratulating Point Blue’s Geoff Geupel for being elected to join the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Executive Council representing Partners In Flight, Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, and the US Shorebird Conservation Plan Council. This is an honor reflecting Point Blue’s hemispheric leadership role in bird conservation, and builds on over a decade of service on NABCI’s Executive Council and multiple working committees.

Follow a Scientist. Point Blue Senior Scientist Dr. Kristy Dybala is taking over American Ornithologists Union’s instagram during the week of September 23rd. You can follow on @amornith and we’ll be adding Dr. Dybala’s AOS posts to a story on our Instagram account as well.

Climate Smart Restoration Handbook for Sierra Meadows. Point Blue’s Marian Vernon and Brent Campos led the development of a new guide to ramp up implementation of a climate-smart framework when doing Sierra meadow restoration. Take a look here!

New Grazing Management Resource. Hightail it over to our new collection of grazing management resources to view, wrangle, and share a curated list of valuable reference materials. This list was rounded up for farmers, ranchers, and other land managers to support more carbon sequestration.

Help Shape Climate Stewards Curriculum. The University of California, California Naturalist Program Climate Stewards Initiative is developing a new certification course using Point Blue and other vetted science. Its anticipated launch is 2021. This course will certify adults as UC Climate Stewards across California. Visit our short blog post to learn more and find out how to participate in shaping the new curriculum.


41st Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon. September 15 – October 15. Count birds for conservation! During this time period, identify and record as many bird species as you can, either by sight or sound and have your friends, family, and community members sponsor you to benefit Point Blue. Sign up or donate here. Visit our events page to join one of our five (and counting!) Bird-A-Thon walks.

Photo: Point Blue’s Dennis Jongsomjit birding in Ecuador with former intern Rocio Guevara and local guide. Credit: Lishka Arata.

Soundscapes to Landscapes Bird Blitz. Monday, September 23, 6 – 8 p.m. Point Blue’s Petaluma Headquarters. Be part of identifying bird sounds recorded across Sonoma County. Learn more by viewing our advertisement.

Photo: Volunteers listening to and identifying recorded bird sounds from across Sonoma County at Point Blue Headquarters. Credit: Soundscapes to Landscapes.

Point Blue at Cal Academy Nature Days. Friday, September 27th, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. Come explore this three-day, family-friendly, science exploration experience and stop by the Point Blue table on Friday to learn about marine conservation science through poop, puke, and plankton. More here.

Photo: Young scientists dissecting a seabird pellet. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.

Scientist Spotlight:

Renée Cormier, Avian Ecologist

Shortly after completing her B.Sc. at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Renée joined Point Blue. In 2002 she began with us as a bird banding intern at our Palomarin Field Station. She quickly rose to a leadership position in science and training the next generation of climate-smart conservationists. Her work is currently focused on Northern Spotted Owl monitoring in Marin County, intern training at Point Blue’s Palomarin Field Station and with our Spotted Owl program, and working on a variety of songbird projects in the Bay Area. She also helps coordinate Point Blue’s oil spill preparedness and response efforts.

We asked Renée what’s most challenging and what she loves most about her job. Here’s what she said:

“What I love most about my job is that it feels like an ideal balance of three things I love: learning, training, and being outdoors. At Point Blue, there is a culture of learning, and I appreciate that I’ve been encouraged and able to continue to learn new things each year (like a new statistical analytics tool) and advance my own skills in some new way. Training interns is a really rewarding part of my job. I get to work with enthusiastic and passionate people, and see how they quickly acquire new skills and absorb tons of new information over the course of a few months; it’s inspiring to see their progress, and to see where they go next. A love for being outdoors is why many of us started out in this field. Whether I’m watching the sun set or rise from a trail on Mt. Tam before a survey, sitting quietly near a roosting Spotted Owl, or catching the first returning Yellow Warbler of the fall season at Palomarin, there is always something that I can be grateful for after a day in the field. The things that I love the most can also sometimes feel the most challenging. It’s no easy task to teach young scientists, improve my own skills, and lead field research all at once. But it fuels my passion for learning!”