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
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
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
to our great mountains the San Gabriels and San Bernardinos, from the
and the skyscrapers of
and the Santa Rosa Plateau.
Rare Native Plants and
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
’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:
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.
Creates a Fragmented Landscape
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
watershed. At the border of
counties, it is in an area where little native open space remains.
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.
short on open space for its
residents, it is high in traffic congestion. Recent developments in
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
. 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
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
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
on the east and 13 acres in
on the southwest. Preservation of
the entire 600-acre site is essential to maintain biodiversity and the
sensitive habitats of this ecosystem.
of Coyote Hills recently met with members of the city council and county
supervisor’s office, state parks, Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and
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
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
Guided Hikes of West Coyote
Free naturalist guided hikes are offered the first
Sat. of each month. For dates and
times log on to www.coyotehills.org.
riding ring in
. (Take 91 Fwy to
exit, go north to Lakeview.)