How we can make beef less terrible for the environment- managed grazing with silvopasture (Wash Post Opinion)

Eric Toensmeier is a lecturer at Yale University and a senior researcher with the climate change-focused nonprofit Project Drawdown. He is the author of “The Carbon Farming Solution.” Read full Washington Post opinion piece here.

Long-term storage of carbon in silvopasture soil is up to five times higher than managed grazing alone — not to mention the carbon stored in the biomass of the trees, although this is not a solution for all rangelands.

When I began investigating how to capture carbon dioxide to fight climate change a decade ago, I had no way of knowing which tool would have the greatest potential. Years later, in 2015, when the environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken hired me to work for Project Drawdown to help model the impacts of 23 land-based climate change solutions, many on our team were surprised when a relatively unknown solution called “silvopasture” emerged as the most powerful agricultural production practice — the ninth most powerful method overall.

Silvopasture systems combine trees, livestock (ruminants like cattle, sheep and goats) and grazing. Ranchers and pastoralists plant trees or manage the land for spontaneous tree growth. The trees provide shade, timber and food for livestock. In most silvopasture systems, the carbon captured in soil and trees more than makes up for the greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide) that ruminants emit through belches and flatulence. One study of intensive silvopasture in Colombia found that emissions from livestock were equal to a quarter to half of the carbon sequestered in soil and biomass…..

To Everything There is a Season: CEO Ellie Cohen Leaving After Two Decades of Transformational Achievements

June 18, 2018

Personal Note from Ellie

[See also Inspiration and Gratitude for October 20, 2018 “Thank You Ellie” Celebration, with Video and Photo links; and Point Blue CEO positionannouncement]

Dear friends,

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!

What’s next?

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 (

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.

With heartfelt gratitude always,


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.

With appreciation,

Megan Colwell, Board Chair

Ed Sarti, Immediate Past Board Chair

To feed future generations, countries must invest in living soils

As of May 2018, 116 countries were in the  process of setting national targets for soil health as part of their effort to meet the SDGs, with support from IUCN. 

Healthy soils are much more than a natural resource for farmers: they are a public good that is essential for a sustainable future. Global estimates of the contribution of soil biodiversity to ecosystem services are between 1.5 and 13 trillion US $ annually.

Read IUCN article here By Jonathan Davies, Drylands Coordinator, Ecosystem Management Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Governments should invest in healthy, living soils by channelling agricultural subsidies towards sustainable farming methods. If done right, agriculture can conserve the diversity of species found in soils, helping halt land degradation and desertification. This in turn helps countries ensure future food security and to mitigate climate change….

Healthy soils are actually species-rich habitats harbouring thousands of different species including fungi, bacteria and invertebrates. These species are the engine that drives the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles essential for soil to produce food. Soil takes hundreds of years to form, but can be eroded easily by wind and water when soil biodiversity is lost. …

….Unsurprisingly, many countries are acting to preserve and improve the health of their soils. The UN has included soil health in its ambitious vision for 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to halt the world’s net land degradation by 2030. As of May 2018, 116 countries were in the  process of setting national targets for soil health as part of their effort to meet the SDGs, with support from IUCN. 

Ethiopia is one of the pioneer countries when it comes to soil health targets. With land degradation estimated to cost the country as much as US$4.3 billion annually, the country has good reason to take action. Ethiopia has set the ambitious target of protecting and restoring 331,933 km2 of land – around 30% of the country’s total surface area. This includes 130,000 km2 of cropland and 120,000 kmof grassland – land on which the government plans to introduce sustainable farming and grazing methods. One such method is agroforestry, which involves planting trees alongside crops. It has been shown to reduce erosion and improve crop yields, while providing livestock fodder, fuel and other sources of income. …

Flooding from high tides has doubled in the US in just 30 years; record levels of “sunny day” or nuisance flooding in 2017

  • Shoreline communities may be inundated in the next two years as ocean levels rise amid serious climate change concerns
  • 2017 saw an average of six flooding days per area across 98 coastal areas monitored by NOAA – an all-time record

by Oliver Milman June 6 2018 Read full Guardian UK article here

The frequency of coastal flooding from high tides has doubled in the US in just 30 years, with communities near shorelines warned that the next two years are set to be punctuated by particularly severe inundations, as ocean levels continue to rise amid serious global climate change concerns.

Last year there was an average of six flooding days per area across 98 coastal areas monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – an all-time record. More than a quarter of these locations tied or broke their records for high tide flood days, the federal agency states in a new report.

Known as “sunny day flooding”, these events swamp streets and homes with water simply from the incoming tide, without the aid of a storm. NOAA said that in 2017 areas across the US north-east and Gulf of Mexico were worst hit, with Boston, Massachusetts, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, both experiencing 22 days of flooding, while Galveston, in Texas, was soaked on 18 different days…

Groundwater pumping can increase arsenic levels in San Joaquin Valley irrigation and drinking water; recovery possible if withdrawals stop

  • Satellite-derived measurements of ground sinking could predict arsenic concentrations in groundwater and serve as an early warning system to prevent dangerous levels of arsenic contamination in aquifers with certain characteristics worldwide.
  • Researchers found signs that aquifers contaminated as a result of overpumping can recover if withdrawals stop.

June 5, 2018 Stanford University Read full ScienceDaily article here

Pumping an aquifer to the last drop squeezes out more than water. A new study finds it can also unlock dangerous arsenic from buried clays — and reveals how sinking land can provide an early warning and measure of contamination.

Now research published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that as pumping makes the ground sink, it also unleashes an invisible threat to human health and food production: It allows arsenic to move into groundwater aquifers that supply drinking water for 1 million people and irrigation for crops in some of the nation’s richest farmland…

…Importantly, the group found signs that aquifers contaminated as a result of overpumping can recover if withdrawals stop. Areas that showed slower sinking compared to 15 years earlier also had lower arsenic levels….

…When water pumping slows enough to put the brakes on subsidence — and relieve the squeeze on trapped arsenic — clean water soaking in from streams, rain and natural runoff at the surface can gradually flush the system clean.

However, study co-author Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics and affiliated faculty at the Woods Institute, warns against banking too much on a predictable recovery from overpumping. “How long it takes to recover is going to be highly variable and dependent upon so many factors,” she said….

Ryan Smith, Rosemary Knight, Scott Fendorf. Overpumping leads to California groundwater arsenic threat. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04475-3

Surprising resurgence of red spruce likely result of cleaner air and warmer winters in US N.E.

  • Researchers found that reduced acid rain and warmer fall, winter and spring temperatures are leading to the species recovery
June 5, 2018 USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station Read full ScienceDaily article here
When scientists found a resurgence of red spruce in northeastern forests, they had a lot of questions. Fifty years ago, red spruce was the equivalent of a canary in the coalmine signaling the effects of acid rain on forests. Researchers have identified two factors behind the tree’s surprising recovery: reduced inputs of acid rain and warmer fall, winter and spring temperatures….

Alexandra M. Kosiba, Paul G. Schaberg, Shelly A. Rayback, Gary J. Hawley. The surprising recovery of red spruce growth shows links to decreased acid deposition and elevated temperature. Science of The Total Environment, 2018; 637-638: 1480 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.010

The key triggers of the West’s costly 2017 wildfire season

  • A series of wildfire factors- fuel, aridity, and ignition- culminated in the big burns of 2017.
June 5, 2018 University of Colorado at Boulder Read full ScienceDaily article here

…Research shows that three major “switches” affecting wildfire — fuel, aridity, and ignition — were either flipped on and/or kept on longer than expected last year, triggering one of the largest and costliest U.S. wildfire seasons in recent decades.

The 2017 wildfire season cost the United States more than $18 billion in damages. That year, 71,000 wildfires scorched 10 million acres of land, destroying 12,000 homes, evacuating 200,000 people and claiming 66 lives. By comparison, 2016 saw 5.4 million acres burned….

Western wildfire seasons are worse when conditions are dry and fuel-rich, raising the chances of ignition. Climate change likely exacerbates fuels and dryness, the paper found, and human behavior contributed the sparks...

….Although naturally occurring climate variability influences environmental conditions that affect the wildfire season, that variation is superimposed on an anthropogenically warmer world, so climate change is magnifying the effects of heat and precipitation extremes, Balch said.

Jennifer Balch, Tania Schoennagel, A. Williams, John Abatzoglou, Megan Cattau, Nathan Mietkiewicz, Lise St. Denis. Switching on the Big Burn of 2017. Fire, 2018; 1 (1): 17 DOI: 10.3390/fire1010017

A little water could make a big difference for endangered salmon in coastal Sonoma County (CA)

  • Less than a gallon per second during dry periods is enough to allow salmon to survive in dry months.
  • This information can drive how riparian restoration is designed to improve fish survival.

June 5, 2018 University of California – San Diego Read full ScienceDaily article here

Even small amounts of running water — less than a gallon per second — could mean the difference between life or death for juvenile coho salmon in coastal California streams, according to a new study published in the journal Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.

The study, led by California Sea Grant Extension Specialist Mariska Obedzinski, shows that during dry periods, that amount of water was enough to keep pools interconnected, allowing young salmon to survive through the hot, dry summer months.

The good news is that if we can get just a little bit of water back in these streams, we can make a really big difference,” says Obedzinski, who leads a monitoring program for endangered coho salmon and steelhead in the small streams of Sonoma County that flow into the Russian River….

…John Green is a project manager for the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, who has already begun applying the new research to their work restoring flow in salmon streams. He says, “The big value in this research is that it has given us an idea of how much water is needed to improve fish survival. From that, we start to understand the kinds of projects we need to build and what their impacts will be.”..

Mariska Obedzinski, Sarah Nossaman Pierce, Gregg E. Horton, Mathew J. Deitch. Effects of Flow-Related Variables on Oversummer Survival of Juvenile Coho Salmon in Intermittent Streams. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 2018; 147 (3): 588 DOI: 10.1002/tafs.10057

California generates more power from solar than gas in May for first time

Hawaii just passed a law to make the state carbon neutral by 2045; most ambitious plan in US

  • The plan is the most ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy plan of any state in the country.

June 4, 2018 Read full FastCompany article

In a little less than three decades, Hawaii plans to be carbon neutral–the most ambitious climate goal in the United States. Governor David Ige signed a bill today committing to make the state fully carbon neutral by 2045, along with a second bill that will use carbon offsets to help fund planting trees throughout Hawaii. A third bill requires new building projects to consider how high sea levels will rise in their engineering decisions.

The state is especially vulnerable to climate change–sea level rise, for example, threatens to cause $19 billion in economic losses–and that’s one of the reasons that the new laws had support.

“We’re on the forefront of climate change impacts,” says Scott Glenn, who leads the state’s environmental quality office. “We experience it directly and we’re a small island. People feel the trade wind days becoming less. They notice the changes in rain. They feel it getting hotter. Because we are directly exposed to this, there’s no denying it.” The state’s political leaders, he says, are “unified in acknowledging that climate change is real and that we do need to do something about it.”…