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Rare, Endangered, and at Home in Coyote Valley

As some of the last remaining undeveloped flat land in Santa Clara County, Coyote Valley is the last place of refuge for several rare species that have been driven out of the rest of Silicon Valley by increasing development.  It holds the potential for more ecological restoration and regeneration, making it all the more important to protect its lands so that endangered and threatened species found within it have a chance to live, breed, and recover.

Photo Credit: Pharaoh Hound

Some resident fauna of Coyote Valley are so threatened that they have only recently been brought back from the edge of regional extinction.  That’s the case for Swainson’s hawk, which used to have a population around the Bay Area but hadn’t been seen in Coyote Valley since the last decade of the 19th Century.  A breeding pair was rediscovered in 2013 and has successfully fledged chicks every year since. The birds are found in the northern part of Coyote Valley, which is most at risk for industrial development.  Given an opportunity to reestablish old habitats after better regulations on pesticides, these raptors represent the possibility of ecological regeneration in Coyote Valley.

Photo Credit: John Clecker, USFWS

Other rare species are able to find a home in Coyote Valley because of its diversity of unusual habitats.  Though much of it looks flat and green or gold through most of the year, it harbors small, temporary ponds in its fields known as vernal pools that provide the key habitat for several insects and amphibians, among them the California tiger salamander.  These salamanders (who, unlike their namesake, are spotted, not striped) depend on having such unpolluted pools to breed, and the loss of such habitat elsewhere has put pressure on other populations in the North Bay and Central Valley.

Photo Credit: Mark Grzan

Could a list of local endangered species be complete without the charming checkerspot?  Though the butterfly is listed as federally endangered, its rarity is partly due to a geological quirk: it feeds on plants that are specially adapted to thrive in the strange, harsh dirt known as serpentine soil, found in (relative) abundance in the Bay Area.  The Bay checkerspot butterfly can be spotted in the Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve and on Tulare Hill, places in Coyote Valley with strains of serpentine soil.

Photo Credit Mark W. Skinner, USDA

Some of the serpentine-adapted plants themselves are endangered as well, but have found refuge in Coyote Valley.  One of these is the Metcalf Canyon jewelflower, an herb with pale purple blooms distantly related to mustard and wild cabbage.  The jewelflower is found only in California and only in two shrinking ranges, so Coyote Valley is critically important for the survival of this federally endangered plant.

Photo Credit: Judy Irving

There are still further opportunities to provide a critical sanctuary to endangered and threatened species in Coyote Valley.  Western burrowing owls have been spending winters in Coyote Valley, which represents the only meadow flat enough and undeveloped enough in Santa Clara County to provide an appropriate place for these owls to spend their winters.  Further restoring Coyote Valley could potentially alleviate the stress on this species, which is listed as endangered in parts of its summer range and found nowhere else in Santa Clara County.

Endangered and threatened species of all kinds are facing increasing challenges with sprawl and climate change compromising much of the habitat they still have left.  This loss can occur even in relatively sheltered places such as Coyote Valley. With all the pressures on local biodiversity, it is even more important to see Coyote Valley protected and the rare species that call it home given a chance to thrive.


About Protect Coyote Valley

The Protect Coyote Valley campaign is led by 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 Land Trust of Santa Clara Valley. 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.

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