To Everything There is a Season: CEO Ellie Cohen Leaving After Two Decades of Transformational Achievements
June 18, 2018
After almost 20 years at the helm of Point Blue, I have decided to step down from my role as CEO. Leading Point Blue during this time of profound environmental change—and consequently this time of great opportunity—has been a tremendous honor. I am filled with pride looking back over the past two decades on the difference we’ve made together for our collective future.
I am also deeply grateful for your support and friendship throughout my journey here…And what an incredible journey it has been!
We’ve come a long way together
When I started in 1999, Point Blue’s annual budget was $2.5 million with 30 staff working out of a former house provided by Audubon Canyon Ranch. Today, our budget is almost $14 million with over 180 staff, we own our 20,000 square foot Petaluma headquarters, and we recently acquired the 3,000 square foot Rich Stallcup Intern House, also in Petaluma.
Building on our long term studies of land birds, seabirds, shorebirds, and vegetation, we now also study krill, whales, soil, water, carbon, microbes and more. When I began, most of our data was entered by hand, stored in paper notebooks. Today, we are an informatics powerhouse, providing cutting edge decision-support tools and managing over one billion ecological observations collected by partners from across the Western Hemisphere—all stored electronically in the “cloud”— to advance climate-smart conservation.
In 1999, we had dozens of mostly public wildlife, land and ocean management agencies as our key partners. Today we’ve expanded our circle to include over 1000 ranchers and farmers, 50,000 students and teachers, as well as land trusts and other NGOs, advancing conservation on one million privately owned acres—through our STRAW, rangeland, flooded agriculture, and meadow restoration partnerships. Our career-building efforts have fledged from informal internships to a world-renowned conservation science training program empowering youth, college students, and post-docs.
From PRBO to Point Blue Conservation Science, and from Point Reyes to the United Nations – with official observer organization status at the global climate change body (UNFCCC)—we’ve come a long way together!
Former Board Chair Ed Sarti is leading a transition committee that has hired an executive recruitment firm to launch a national search for Point Blue’s new CEO. They are managing a transparent and inclusive process engaging staff, members, partners and funders. I plan to remain on staff through the end of the year.
I’m excited for a new innovative and visionary leader to guide the organization in taking bold action to increase the pace and scale of climate-smart conservation. Thanks to your support, Point Blue is stronger than ever, with the Board and staff poised to achieve even greater impact in the years ahead.
Thank you for your continued generosity to Point Blue, particularly important during this transition. Please consider making a one-time special gift today to lay an even stronger foundation for our new CEO and to ensure Point Blue’s continued success (www.pointblue.org/donate).
This is a bittersweet time for me personally. Please know that Point Blue will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of Point Blue. Wherever my next career chapter takes me, I know I will continue to work with Point Blue. Thanks again to each of you for giving me the honor of a lifetime these past two decades.
Collaborative Accomplishments from 1999-2018
I often describe Point Blue as having 3 names: first name “science,” middle name “partnership,” and last name “family!” Following is a list of just some of our many collaborative accomplishments since 1999 that demonstrate these essential qualities.–Ellie Cohen, June 19, 2018
- Established Point Blue as an internationally recognized leader and driver for climate-smart, multi-benefit conservation.
- Grew Point Blue’s budget from $2.5 million with 30 staff in 1999 to almost $14 million with 180+ staff in 2018.
- Built a strong financial foundation with outright ownership of our 20,000 square foot Petaluma headquarters, ownership of our new 12-person Rich Stallcup Intern House in Petaluma, and a board-designated reserve fund of $3 million.
- Secured official Observer Organization on climate change by the United Nations global climate body (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
- Co-developed climate-smart conservation principles and catalyzed their adoption by most of our agency, NGO and government partners.
- Brought on the award-winning STRAW program to Point Blue and established our innovative Rangeland Watershed Initiative partner biologist program.
- Leveraged almost $100 million in agricultural land conservation on roughly 2 million acres of forests, meadows, rangelands and croplands, for water, birds, other wildlife, carbon sequestration and people by engaging over 1000 ranchers and farmers, dozens of public agencies (including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Forest Service), land trusts and other NGOs, as well as over 50,000 students and teachers.
- Helped more than 70 city, county, regional, state, and federal agencies across 95% of the urbanized coast of California to plan for climate change through the Our Coast Our Future online planning tool.
- Played a leadership science role in securing the world’s largest Marine Protected Area at the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
- Engaged scores of partners and over 1,200 volunteers across 12 countries across the Americas to advance climate-smart conservation for migratory shorebirds and coastal communities.
- Helped ensure the protection of over 800,000 acres of post-fire forest for birds and other wildlife.
- Supported the protection and restoration of populations of seabirds, whales, shorebirds, land birds and their habitats in the West, the California Current, along the Pacific Coast of the Americas, and Antarctica.
- Contributed an average of 15 peer-reviewed scientific publications per year, in a growing number of high impact journals, to advance conservation science and application.
- Established Point Blue as an informatics powerhouse, now managing over 1 billion ecological observations from across the Western Hemisphere and producing cutting-edge, practical web-based tools to advance climate-smart conservation from Alaska to Chile and Antarctica.
- Expanded our renowned conservation science training programs, with a total of 1900 interns graduated and more than 100 graduate students who’ve helped to unlock our vast stores of ecological data.
- Maintained and grew Point Blue’s uniquely valuable long-term bird and ecosystem data sets to understand ecological patterns and inform conservation management (total years as of 2018):
- Palomarin Field Station, Point Reyes National Seashore (52 years)
- Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge (50 years)
- Coastal Snowy Plovers (40 years)
- Ross Island, Antarctica (35 years)
- SF Bay Tidal Marshes (22 years)
- Sierra Nevada (22 years)
- Vandenberg Air Force Base (19 years)
- Gulf of Farallones (14 years), and,
- TomKat Ranch Field Station (8 years).
- Launched and grew the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership in California with our partners at The Nature Conservancy and Audubon California.
- Expanded Point Blue’s active leadership in major conservation partnerships regionally, nationally and internationally including the Bird Habitat Joint Ventures, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, Migratory Shorebird Project, Sierra Meadow Partnership, National Marine Sanctuary Science Advisory Committees, CA and National Adaptation Forums, NWF’s Climate-Smart Conservation Team, and the Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Consortium, to name just a few.
- Cultivated and managed an outstanding Board of Directors and staff leadership team.
- Supported the development of an acclaimed group of scientists who are leaders in their fields, in high performance teaming and in high performance partnering.
- Professionalized and enhanced the experience of being an employee at Point Blue including implementing a matching 401K retirement plan and paid family leave.
A letter from our Current and Immediate Past Board Chairs
Combining vision with passion and nearly two decades of hard work, Ellie Cohen transformed Point Blue from a bird and animal research organization to a powerhouse of conservation science. With that transformation came growth—more scientists, more partnerships, more revenue, and, ultimately, more impact to conserve nature and make the planet a better place for all living things.
As members of Point Blue’s Board of Directors, we have been honored to support and work alongside Ellie. Her contributions are far too numerous to fit in this note, but some deserve special attention, especially her leadership on climate change. Thanks to Ellie, Point Blue has never been a follower when it comes to climate change. She understood early on that we needed a paradigm shift in how we approached conservation science. Not everybody was ready—change is hard. With tenacity, patience and, most importantly, passion, she catalyzed the conservation community to prioritize climate change– and worked with our scientists and partners to infuse climate into all aspects of our work. Point Blue is now on the leading edge of climate-smart conservation.
Vision and passion are essential in a leader, but Ellie also has the business savvy to manage over 180 employees and interns, multiple offices throughout California, hundreds of contracts with federal, state and local agencies as well as projects spanning the Americas and Antarctica. None of that would be possible without assembling and nurturing the strongest leadership team–at all levels—that Point Blue has ever had, which is perhaps the best legacy any CEO could hope to leave behind.
While we were deeply saddened to learn of Ellie’s decision to leave Point Blue, she will be leaving the organization strongly positioned for future success. Thank you, Ellie. In the months ahead, we will be reaching out with our plans to celebrate her many contributions and achievements.
In the meantime, the Board of Directors has established a transition committee to identify and recruit a new Chief Executive Officer, and to ensure a smooth transition of leadership. The committee plans to engage an executive search firm to perform a national search to find a great new leader for Point Blue.
Megan Colwell, Board Chair
Ed Sarti, Immediate Past Board Chair