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Update on Wednesday, November 6, 4:00 p.m.: After decades of debate over land use, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously to enter into agreements with POST and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to acquire 937 acres at the northern end of Coyote Valley. Find the full story here.
Protecting Coyote Valley, just south of San Jose, is imperative to the health of the greater Bay Area. It is the last intact valley floor connection between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range—a “last chance landscape,” connecting over 1.13 million acres of life-sustaining habitat and serving as a lifeline for our conservation work in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s also a great place to go hiking.
For decades, Coyote Valley has been slated for development by technology giants. But if this landscape were paved over, we would risk severing the connection between two mountain ranges and threaten the stability of our regional ecosystems.
Saving Coyote Valley is a top priority for POST and our partner organizations. It is mission critical in our effort to create a place where people and nature can thrive. Below, you’ll learn why we’re fighting for wildlife, water and your future within this last chance landscape.
The Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range were linked by the entire unadulterated Santa Clara Valley. From the gnarled oaks on the valley floor to the wind-blown summits of Loma Prieta and San Benito, the tallest peaks in both ranges, the landscape was bound together as one intact ecosystem. Life then had the room it needed to roam.
With the urbanization of the West, the connection between these two ranges disintegrated. Agriculture, rail and roadways, Silicon Valley and other urban development replaced an ancient indigenous society and gave rise to the neighborhoods and communities we live in today. With time, the natural landscape was fragmented into a patchwork of disconnected parts. Now one of the only remaining connections between these two mountain ranges is within Coyote Valley.
We’re lucky there’s still open space within this valley floor. Since the 1980s, Coyote Valley has been eyed by developers who, one by one, abandoned plans to build there due to challenges from the valley’s hydrology and the cost of extending the necessary infrastructure south from San Jose. Here you can discover how the conversation about Coyote Valley’s future has shifted over the years.
In recent years, the scientific community has established the importance of preserving areas of connectivity, or “linkages,” between California’s largest wildlife habitat areas. These linkages allow life to move and find the resources needed for survival. And they are especially important today as California’s plants and animals are forced to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.
Extensive scientific research has identified Coyote Valley as critical to the resilience and integrity of the greater Bay Area. This work was summarized in the Coyote Valley Landscape Linkage Report compiled by our partners at the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority.
The message is clear. This valley floor connects 1.13 million acres of core habitat for wildlife. And 457,000 of those acres are already protected, representing an estimated $3.5 billion in conservation investments. If Coyote Valley is developed, the region’s habitat that we have worked so hard to preserve will be in jeopardy.
And the valley floor itself is home to many rare and endangered species, including the jewelflower, Bay checkerspot butterfly, western burrowing owl, tiger salamander, tricolored blackbird, red-legged frog and Swainson’s hawk. And, as an important stopover on the Pacific Flyway, the valley is a hotspot for birds with 224 species documented to date – that’s more than a quarter of all bird species found in the lower 48 states!
We know from research conducted by our partners at the San Francisco Estuary Institute that water slowed and fanned out across this landscape, creating a mosaic of wet meadows and ponds that provided habitat for a variety of wildlife. Unfortunately, with the introduction of agriculture in the early 20th century, much of the Laguna Seca was drained and burned to make room for agriculture.
Despite being reduced to roughly 10% of its historic size, this wetland still exists and is the largest remaining freshwater wetland in the Santa Clara County. Water pools here naturally and, what isn’t siphoned off into Coyote Creek to flow through San Jose, stays within the wetland, sinks underground and recharges our groundwater.
Water retained in the Laguna Seca also helps to alleviate flooding downstream in San Jose. In the winter of 2017, downtown San Jose flooded, forcing 14,000 people from their homes and causing over $100 million in damage. It was hard to watch and, unfortunately, something that we will likely see more of in the coming decades.
Since that time, the residents of San Jose have come to recognize that one of the most effective flood control measures available involves protecting and restoring the natural wetlands upstream. Last fall, the citizens of San Jose passed Measure T which allocates $650 million for infrastructure improvements throughout San Jose and includes funding for up to $50,000,000 in land conservation acquisitions within Coyote Valley. We now have the opportunity to give these historic wetlands new life so they can continue to provide multiple benefits for people and wildlife alike.
Once protected, Coyote Valley provides the opportunity to build upon two existing regional trails and expand on the numerous recreational options in the heart of the South Bay. San Jose’s Coyote Creek Trail will one day provide users with a 30-mile trail experience from the edge of the Bay to the headwaters of Coyote Creek. Our work protecting Coyote Valley will provide new outdoor recreation experiences along the southern portion of this route.
Additionally, Coyote Valley would support the completion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, a 375-mile trail that connects the highest points around the San Francisco Bay. Once complete, this trail will circumnavigate the entire Bay Area for a total of 550 miles.
With the protection of Coyote Valley, our public agency partners will also have new opportunities to connect people to nature. Preserving this landscape will provide much needed outdoor recreational opportunities in the heart of the South Bay for many generations to come.
Aerial support provided by LightHawk.
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 79,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more