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For the past few months, we have been privileged to have a sneak peek into the lives of bobcats in Coyote Valley. POST and our partners at the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, Wilmers Lab at UC Santa Cruz, and Pathways for Wildlife, have been using GPS collars to collect data in hopes of better understanding some key questions about how wildlife navigate the complex landscape that is Coyote Valley.
One of our key research questions has to do with roads. Where do they cross? How frequently? Are they moving across the surface at-grade or safely through a culvert that runs under the road?
One of the individuals we were tracking, B02F, a female we referred to as Elderberry, appeared to have had kittens earlier this year or last. She made an impressive voyage from Tulare Hill into the Coyote Creek Parkway, working her way north and successfully crossing under the 101/85 interchange into the foothills of the Diablo Range. She eventually attempted another at-grade crossing and was struck and killed by a vehicle near the Metcalf energy station on Monterey Highway – a known roadkill hotspot (based on roadkill surveys).
On the western side of the valley, we have been following a female known as B03F, or Sage. The lead researcher for the project was able to determine that she is raising kittens right now, based on the fact that she was lactating at the time the collar was affixed. As we have been following her, we have learned that she repeatedly and frequently crosses Bailey Road, a route that sees a lot of traffic. One can’t help but be concerned for her and her kittens, who rely upon their mother until they have reached “dispersal” age — meaning the stage at which they become independent and set out on their own.
These bobcats are teaching us important lessons about the landscape.
The cats we are following do not use the same areas to cross roads, so it is unlikely that mitigations that would prevent all wildlife-vehicle conflicts can be designed. However, by creating infrastructure in areas where there are frequent bobcat crossings as well as roadkills of both bobcat and other species, it may be possible to significantly reduce wildlife-vehicle conflict and mortality.
Coyote Valley is a place where wildlife passage infrastructure will be an important component of successful conservation in the long-term, a message that is well-documented in the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority’s recently-released report entitled the “Coyote Valley Landscape Linkage: A Vision for a Resilient, Multi-benefit Landscape.”
This point is reinforced at a regional perspective. The great work that is underway to establish wildlife crossings along Highway 17 at Lexington Reservoir and Laurel Curve depend on complementary efforts in places like Coyote Valley, so that wildlife can move and migrate into and out of the Santa Cruz Mountains – exchanging genes and keeping populations robust and resilient.
As POST and our partners are actively working to protect and restore Coyote Valley, the stories of bobcats like Elderberry and Sage will be invaluable in informing our conservation strategies.
Stay tuned as we continue to learn more about this complex landscape, with bobcats serving as our guides.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 76,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.