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Coyote Valley: The Vital Link Between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range

by Megan Medeiros, Executive Director, Committee for Green Foothills

This is a series of reports from the Coyote Valley VIP Bus Tour held Sept. 5, 2017

Coyote Valley is a pretty unique place. It is one of the last vestiges of a valley floor in Silicon Valley — it is, in fact, one of the last great landscapes in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are irreplaceable natural, cultural, and agricultural resources in Coyote Valley, and because of these, it’s fair to say that it represents the highest priority for conservation by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority.


So, what’s unique about this place?

It’s not until you dig in — really dig in — that you begin to understand what’s happening here. Coyote Valley is a mosaic of geology, geography, and habitat types that are incredibly rare in the San Francisco Bay Area, all of which are packed tightly within its 7,400 acres between San Jose and Morgan Hill. Here there are still significant remnants of its historic ecology: oak woodlands, Valley Oak savannah, wetlands, creeks, riparian forests, and freshwater marshes — and all of these habitat types support a plethora of wildlife and plants from mountain lions to bobcats to the infamous Bay checkerspot butterfly and California tiger salamanders. They are all here.

Coyote Valley Landscape Linkage: One critical linchpin

The Open Space Authority just released a bold new conservation vision called the Coyote Valley Landscape Linkage report that focuses on the wildlife calling the valley home.

Imagine for a second this place thousands of years ago. There were all kinds of large mammals moving across this valley from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Diablo Range. Most of those pathways are gone now, but there’s one left — one critical, biological linchpin and that’s Coyote Valley.

Why is that so important? There are over a million acres of habitat in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range — 400,000 acres of which are in permanent protection. Imagine: A million acres, with slightly under half in permanent protection, and only a few thousand acres acting as the stepping stone for wildlife to get from one place to another. That is all that’s left.

This essential landscape linkage for wildlife is critically important for migration, movement, habitat, water, and food.




Water plays an important role

The centerpiece of the Coyote Valley is a place called Laguna Seca, Spanish for “dry lake.” This is a misnomer: For many, many, years we’ve seen that it is not a dry lake. Indeed, if you drove by here last winter, you saw that it is the largest remaining freshwater marsh in the South Bay.

Laguna Seca is the place where wildlife migrate. It is the place where 240+ species of birds congregate. And it is prime habitat for the Bay checkerspot butterfly that lives in the serpentine soils there, one of the highest priorities that we all need to protect.


Let’s not cut off this crucial wildlife passageway

The Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range almost kiss in northern Coyote Valley. For wildlife trying to move and navigate roads and highways and development, this is the place they go. Fisher Creek and Coyote Creek are now documented wildlife pathways. There are some amazing pictures of collared bobcats and their points of movement all over Coyote Valley.

Roads present a huge risk to wildlife and to people in terms of wildlife-people conflicts. Motorists are increasingly hitting wildlife on Highway 101, Monterey Highway, and Santa Teresa Boulevard. We can do better by working together to provide safe, engineered crossings that accommodate wildlife movement. In fact, Pathways for Wildlife has imagined a better solution: Instead of culverts, install a land bridge over Highway 101.

Protecting Coyote Valley: The business case

The last thing that’s important to know about Coyote Valley relates to a business metaphor: return on investment. Public and private funders have invested over $3.5 billion to protect those 400,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range. If we lose this critical pathway, we will have spent $3.5 billion to create a habitat island, dooming its wildlife species to extinction. That’s what’s at stake here.

Protecting Coyote Valley preserves an irreplaceable connection in a pinch point between two mountain ranges and saves a three-and-a-half billion-dollar investment. It also represents a model of one of the most innovative nature-based solutions in the United States. Silicon Valley is the home of innovation. It makes sense for such a solution to be created here in Coyote Valley.

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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, and SAGE — Sustainable Agriculture Education. It aims to preserve Coyote Valley, San Jose as open space that offers flood-buffering wetlands, an essential wildlife habitat and migratory area, and active farmlands.