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Coyote Hills

 

Last Chance for Nature in an Open-space Starved Region

The future of the only remaining natural land in the heart of the densely urbanized north Orange, south Los Angeles County region is in jeopardy.  Chevron Texaco subsidiary Pacific Coast Homes plans to build 760 units plus commercial on the last 510 acres of native coastal sage ecosystem within this open-space starved ten-city region.
    West Coyote Hills is thriving ecosystem—a spectacular, native landscape—above inland valleys and the coastal plain. It is a steppingstone on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds of prey as well as a wintering ground for Northern Harriers and Sharp-shinned Hawks. White-tailed Kites, a California fully protected species, nest here. In addition to the meew of the 48 pairs of California Gnatcatchers and the chuckle of the 50 plus pairs of Coastal Cactus Wrens, one hears the songs and calls of a multitude of nesting birds including Bewick’s wrens, song sparrows, orange-crowned warblers, goldfinches, towhees, and California quail, our state bird.  At dusk brush rabbits come out to forage and the resident coyotes sing for they are the keystone species that have kept this ecosystem healthy.
    The highpoint in the area, West Coyote Hills provides a hilly backdrop to adjacent cities. A short walk up the trail yields exhilarating views extending 360 degrees from Catalina Island to our great mountains the San Gabriels and San Bernardinos, from the Santa Monica Mountains and the skyscrapers of Los Angeles to Mount San Jacinto and the Santa Rosa Plateau.

Rare Native Plants and Animals 

Southern California is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. To qualify for this designation a region must contain an extremely high number of flowering plants that are found nowhere else in the world. In fact Southern California ’s Coastal Sage Scrub is one of the most diverse habitats in the world and currently only three percent of it still exists. In West Coyote Hills more than 130 species of plants and animals live and interact.  Four endangered plant communities occur here: California sagebrush, coast prickly pear, coyote brush, and southern willow scrub. These communities are in excellent biologically productive condition. At Coyote Hills spring and summer provide a profusion of color. Carmine monkeyflowers and black sage crowd the slopes with spots of yellow sun cups and coast prickly pear, orange deer plant, and purple fern-leaved phacelia.
    Proposed Development Creates a Fragmented Landscape
    Chevron Texaco’s fully owned subsidiary Pacific Coast Homes (PCH) is proposing to place 760 units and a commercial zone on this--the last 510 acres of their 1800-acre site in the greater Coyote Hills area.  In recent decades Chevron has subdivided their extensive holdings in Coyote Hills and 1200 acres have already been developed with residential and commercial units, and golf courses.  Most recently 28 pairs of threatened California Gnatcatchers and an unknown number of Coastal Cactus Wrens were lost due to development of Chevron’s adjacent site to the north.

Proposed Development Creates a Fragmented Landscape
    The Chevron PCH development map indicates a fragmented landscape that, even if revegetated, will be expensive and difficult to maintain. It will be subject to invasions of nonnative species along the three extra miles of urban edge created by the development. In order to attempt to retain the remaining fragments of native landscape, expensive maintenance such as constant invasive vegetation removal and trapping and disposal of cowbirds will have to be provided and paid for in perpetuity.  Even these efforts may not succeed. Currently the ecosystem is healthy and surviving on its own and should be allowed to remain in its natural state.                    
   
If development takes place, much of the landscape will be destroyed to create building pads and roads. The developer says that some areas will be revegetated with native plants. However, during construction, most of the animals living in the areas where vegetation is removed will perish because they will have nowhere to live while construction is taking place.
    True revegetation is an expensive, complex process that may take years to achieve and often does not yield the desired result.  Revegetation is not just a matter of planting a few cactus leaves and some sage. Cuttings and seeds must be collected at the appropriate time of year from the site and propagated.  If this is not done and commercially available native plants are used the local gene pool can be diluted.  This may lead to the decline of all of the locally native plant communities.

  An Underserved Area
  
West Coyote Hills lies in a built-out region of the coastal plain within the San Gabriel River watershed. At the border of Orange and Los Angeles counties, it is in an area where little native open space remains.
    North Orange County has one acre of open space for every 246 people, whereas the National Recreation and Park Association recommends one acre for every 100 people.  This densely populated, middle class area has a desperate need for open space and an even more desperate need for natural open space for education, recreation, and the unique ecological values of this disappearing ecosystem.
   North Orange County short on open space for its residents, it is high in traffic congestion. Recent developments in Fullerton will add 23,560 more car trips to the streets in the region at build out. If West Coyote Hills is developed, that figure will increase by another 7,600 car trips.

  Vision for West Coyote Hills 
  
Sierra Club’s Coyote Hills Task Force is working to save the site as a nature preserve with access. Their vision includes access on the west, east and south through three themed gates. A multiuse east-west trail meanders along the northern ridgeline accommodating hikers, bikers and equestrians.  A north-south trail is accessible for handicapped visitors and all trails have interpretive signs. An interpretive wing highlighting the Coastal Sage Scrub ecosystem could potentially be added to the existing center at adjacent Clark Regional Park . Volunteers will lead on-site interpretive tours.
    West Coyote Hills will be a place where young people in this underserved region can get their first glimpse of nature.  It will be a resource for local grammar and high schools as well as a research site for college students.  Twenty-one college professors with 550 years of combined teaching and research experience have signed a petition to save West Coyote Hills.
    Preserving West Coyote Hills will mean protecting a rare ecosystem for future generations.  It will mean that the core population of California Gnatcatchers in the north Orange , Los Angeles counties region can maintain itself and that the rare plant communities that occur here will be sustained. Since oil extraction operations have stopped, the land is regenerating— California Sage, Coyote Brush and a multitude of other plants can be seen poking through the deserted roadbeds.
    Most of all the preservation of West Coyote Hills will enhance the quality of life of the people in a densely populated area by allowing nearby access to a now rare ecosystem for education, recreation and contemplation.

  It’s Our Choice, Join the Effort to Save Coyote Hills
  
The effort to save Coyote Hills has received broad community support and recognition from many organizations. Currently 72 acres have been preserved in the adjacent Ward Nature Park on the east and 13 acres in Clark Regional Park on the southwest.  Preservation of the entire 600-acre site is essential to maintain biodiversity and the sensitive habitats of this ecosystem.
    Friends of Coyote Hills recently met with members of the city council and county supervisor’s office, state parks, Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and Trust for Public Land regarding preservation options.  This was an important first step in focusing the attention of key stakeholders on saving West Coyote Hills, but the public needs to keep applying political pressure.
    Individuals can participate at many levels from professional consultations to attending Planning Commission meetings and speaking before the Fullerton City Council. Coyote Hills supporters are a unique group of people from all walks of life, who care deeply about saving this last piece of natural open space in north Orange County that will, if saved, serve the people of the region and allow them to understand nature as it existed before nearly every square inch of the area is changed forever.
To help preserve Coyote Hills for future generations, contact Friends of Coyote Hills at www.coyotehills.org. P.O. Box 5267 , Fullerton , CA 92838 .

  Guided Hikes of West Coyote Hills
  
Free naturalist guided hikes are offered the first Sat. of each month.  For dates and times log on to www.coyotehills.org. Meet at Laguna Lake Park riding ring in Fullerton . (Take 91 Fwy to Euclid exit, go north to Lakeview.)