By David Loeb for Bay Nature
By the time I got out of my car at the Petaluma headquarters of Point Blue Conservation Science on the morning of November 8, the sky had already turned a sickly yellowish tan. On the drive up from Berkeley, I had started noticing what first appeared to be yellow fog to the northeast, while the sky remained clear and blue to the west. Strange, I thought; fog usually comes in from the west. By the time I reached Petaluma, the whole sky was blanketed by the sickly yellow haze; the acrid smell when I got out of the car told me immediately this was not fog. Inside the office, Ellie Cohen, CEO of Point Blue, was already communicating with Point Blue field staff about the fast-moving wildfire that had ignited just a few hours earlier near the town of Paradise in Butte County. “Get inside and be safe,” she pleaded. What we couldn’t have known at that point was that this was the start of the deadliest wildfire in California history, leaving 86 people dead and thousands displaced.
This was an all-too-appropriate segue to my interview with Ellie Cohen, on the occasion of her impending departure from Point Blue Conservation Science (founded in 1965 as Point Reyes Bird Observatory/PRBO). Because if the world at large had been heeding Ellie for the past 12 years, we might already be on track to make the choices and changes necessary to avoid this apocalyptic, smoke-filled vision of the future of California … and the planet….