Jeanne Wirka, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Tucked behind a Petaluma office park overlooking Shollenberger wetlands, the headquarters of Point Blue Conservation Science can be difficult to find without a map.
Yet this 53-year-old, Petaluma-based organization is doing globally significant work from Alaska to Antarctica, and from the Sierra Nevada to the California coastline. Point Blue’s 160 scientists form a kind of “geek squad” for nature — unapologetically generating, interpreting and leading with data that document impacts of a changing climate and other threats to wildlife and ecosystems.
“We are driven by data,” said Point Blue’s chief scientist, Grant Ballard. “If the data don’t say anything, we don’t say anything.”
Since its 1965 origins as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the organization’s scientists and their collaborators have recorded more than a billion observations of birds and other wildlife from field stations throughout California and in Antarctica. According to Ballard, it is precisely these long-term data sets, some of which dates 50 years, that set Point Blue apart.
“By taking the long view, we can speak with credibility about whether changes are happening or not.”
It comes as no surprise then that climate change has become the central focus of Point Blue’s research and that “climate-smart conservation” is now the cornerstone of its strategy.
The complexity of how and whether animals respond to changes in their environment is perhaps best illustrated by one of Point Blue’s most charismatic long-term research subjects, the Adélie (pronounced “uh-DELL-ee”) penguin, a tough little bird whose population in Antarctica’s Ross Sea has actually been increasing during the time Point Blue has been studying them.