To say that the recent announcement on Thunderbird's future threw people in a tizzy would be an understatement. After all, we have nothing less than apocalyptic proclamations of the death of Thunderbird. I believe that such proclamations are as exaggerated as Samuel Clemens's death notices (apologies for making a joke that is probably inscrutable to non-en-US people).
The truth is, Thunderbird has not been a priority for Mozilla since before I started working on it. There really isn't any coordination in mozilla-central to make sure that any planned "featurectomies" don't impact Thunderbird—we typically get the same notice that add-on authors get, despite being arguably the largest binary user of the codebase outside of mozilla-central. Given also that the Fennec and B2G codebases were subsequently merged into mozilla-central (one of the arguments I heard about the Fennec merge was that "it's too difficult to maintain the project outside of mozilla-central") and that comm-central remains separate, it should be quickly clear how much apathy for Thunderbird existed prior to this announcement.
As a consequence, the community has historically played a major role in the upkeep of Thunderbird. The massive de-RDF project was driven by a lawyer-in-training. I myself have made significant changes to the address book, NNTP, testing, and MIME codes. Our QA efforts are driven in large part by a non-paid contributor. More than half of the top-ten contributors are non-employees, according to hg churn. So the end of purely-Thunderbird-focused paid developers is by no means the end of the project.
There's a lot of invective about the decision, so let me attempt to rationalize why it was made. Mozilla's primary goal is to promote the Open Web, which means in large part, that Mozilla needs to ensure that it remains relevant in markets to prevent the creation of walled gardens. I believe that Mozilla has judged that it needs to focus on the mobile market, which is where the walled gardens are starting to crop up again. In the desktop world, Mozilla has a strong browser and a strong email client, and maintaining that position is good enough. In the mobile world, Mozilla has virtually no presence right now. Hence all of the effort being put into Firefox Mobile and B2G right now.
Now, many of the decisions as to the future of the project are uncertain; unfortunately, the email laying all of this out was prematurely leaked. But it is clear that Thunderbird suffers from massive technical debt: when I was pondering parts that the Gaia email app might be able to leverage, I first considered the IMAP protocol implementation and then ran out of things to suggest. Well, maybe lightning or the chat backends (for calendaring and IM, respectively), but it's clear that most of the mammoth codebase is completely unsuitable for reincorporation into another project. To this end, I think the most useful thing that could happen in Thunderbird falls under the "maintenance" banner anyways: a replacement of these crappy components with more solid implementations that are less reliant on maybe-obsolete Gecko features and that could be shared with the Gaia email app. As a bit of a shameless plug, I have been working on a replacement MIME parser with an explicit eye towards letting Gaia's app use it. Such work would be more useful than whining about the decision, in any case.