by Megan Medeiros, Executive Director, Committee for Green Foothills and Tanya Diamond, Wildlife Biologist, Pathways for Wildlife
This is a series of reports from the Coyote Valley VIP Bus Tour held Sept. 5, 2017
Coyote Valley: A migratory path
Pathways for Wildlife is an organization that focuses on the identification of critical landscape linkages that wildlife use to cross Coyote Valley. Together with the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, the wildlife biologists at Pathways conducted a two-year, “Link Assessment Study” in Coyote Valley monitoring different species that use the valley floor to cross via Fisher Creek and Coyote Creek, which was also co-funded by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, Pathways has partnered with the Open Space Authority, Chris Wilmers, UCSC and the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) on a gray fox and bobcat radio-collar study that kicked-off in the summer of 2017; so far eight bobcats have been collared and tracked.
One of the reasons Coyote Valley is such an important wildlife corridor is that it literally connects the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Diablo Range. There are over half a million acres of protected lands surrounding the valley floor thanks to the work of POST, the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and other public and private agencies.
However, the linkage between the two ranges is still incomplete. This is particularly critical for mountain lions. The UC Santa Cruz Puma project has found that the Santa Cruz mountain lions already have low genetic diversity and documented inbreeding. It’s crucial to connect the territories that mountain lions, bobcats, and other species need to maintain their genetic diversity.
Coyote Valley: A place many animals call home
Through the camera stations setup across the valley floor, Pathways has recorded multiple species traveling through, but they have also found resident species. The species that live in Coyote Valley include the North American badger, bobcat, coyote, and gray fox. Pathways has pictures of bobcat kittens and a gray fox pair, which will eventually have young and juveniles that need to disperse — those juveniles will need to move out of their parental home range to find their own. Unfortunately, this means movement across roads.
Barriers to wildlife movement
Besides chronicling the paths animals are taking, the study has also provided insights into the barriers to wildlife movement, which tries to answer the question, “how can we better get animals across the different roads?”
A new, first-ever Santa Clara Valley Wildlife Corridor working group has been formed that includes POST, the Open Space Authority, the Santa Clara Habitat Agency, the Valley Transit Authority, County Parks, and CalTrans. Together, these inter-agencies and organizations are looking at how to facilitate animal crossings at Monterey Road. Many animals are consistently hit there, which is dangerous for both wildlife and people.
Tracking bobcats leads to a discovery and a grand vision
Coyote Valley is pretty compact in terms of its valley floor and wildlife movement. When Pathways started trapping and collaring bobcats, they were surprised to have caught the eight. Bobcats are territorial so Coyote Valley is a small area for such a large number. One of the eight attempted to cross Monterey Highway, an area notorious for animal fatalities because of the concrete barrier in the center divide. Tragically, she was hit right above the culvert intended to allow animals to pass. That culvert is the only one on Monterey Highway and it was flooded due to a buildup of debris.
It was unfortunate and as a result, CalTrans and the VTA have made some progress in clearing some of the pathway culverts; however, as of this writing, the one on Monterey Road has yet to be cleared.
This experience has led Pathways for Wildlife to a grander vision: Instead of culverts, install a land bridge over Highway 101.
After all, if Los Angeles can do it, why can’t we?
About Protect Coyote Valley
The Protect Coyote Valley campaign is led by the Committee for Green Foothills and supported by Greenbelt Alliance, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, SAGE — Sustainable Agriculture Education, and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. It aims to preserve Coyote Valley, San Jose as open space that offers flood-buffering wetlands, an essential wildlife habitat and migratory area, active farmlands, and a place for people to connect with nature.