Support the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan

Bay Checkerspot Butterfly. Image credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

I recently attended a mushroom talk held by my local California Native Plant Society chapter. (No, mushrooms aren’t plants — they are more closely related to animals than to plants, which is why it’s hard to treat fungal infections — but it’s cool.) One of the things that came up at the talk was a project that has been in the works for the past decade to preserve a good chunk of open space not very far from me. The various cities and counties involve will be voting on it this October.

I had never heard of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan before. Which is silly, because I’m reasonably up to date on deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia and a number of other areas around the world that are threatened by human economic and population expansion. Yet in my own backyard, here’s a unique ecosystem under pressure from urban development. It’s easy to say, “Save the rainforest!” when you don’t live in one and your economic future doesn’t depend on encroaching into that land. It’s harder when you have to measure the economics of your area against the long term benefits of habitat preservation.

Even so, I am definitely in favor of protecting more open spaces from being paved over and turned into a condos. In the Bay Area, we’ve already done a whole lot of paving, and have already lost a lot of habitats and species. Time to learn how to share.

San Joaquin Kit Fox. Image credit: USFWS Endangered Species

What’s so special about the 46,000 acres that the Habitat Plan would protect? They include some unique serpentine ecosystems. Serpentine soil is rocky and low in nitrogen, potassium, and other things plants like. But it’s far from barren: some extremophile, highly adapted plants and animals have evolved here and live nowhere else. Endangered native wildflowers, burrowing owls, checkerspot butterflies, and kit foxes all thrive in the Bay Area’s shrinking serpentine ecosystems. 

The Habitat Plan would ensure long term protection for these 46,000 acres of open space while directing urban development back within cities and towns. You can learn more about it at their website or on Facebook.

Santa Clara County, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and San Jose vote on the plan between October 9 and October 23. If you’re local (and even if you’re not), I hope you’ll join me in urging elected officials to approve the plan.   I’m trying to work up the courage to attend some of the city council meetings, even though I am totally the kind of introvert who would rather do almost anything than speak in public.

I firmly believe that conservation should extend to, and maybe even start at, home. Checkerspot butterflies may not be as sexy as jaguars, but that doesn’t make them less worth protecting.

What local conservation projects are happening around you? If you don’t know of any, I challenge you to find out!

7 responses to this post.

  1. We have a few things here, there is the Goodell Gardens which was bequeathed to a non profit agency and gives lectures, classes and such on the species of animals and plants in our area. So many of the areas around here have been developed, of course I live just a few miles from Lake Erie and also along French Creek both waterways are very important, and French Creek has aquatic life that is now extinct elsewhere.


    • It’s great you’re aware of programs in your area — it has literally taken me years to start looking beyond my own life for areas to ‘green.’ I think any ecosystem, examined closely enough, will be unique in some way. Serpentine doesn’t look like much (shrubby grassland, mostly dead in the summer), but it’s pretty unique when you look at the adaptations the plants have acquired in order to survive there. It makes me sad to think that all the conveniences and luxuries of modern life have partially been purchased by the loss of so many different ecosystems that we’ll never get back. Of course, I’m also not volunteering to live in a mud hut. 🙂


      • It is sad, I don’t think we need to live in a mud hut although it could be interesting :-), but we can live smarter. There are so many unique areas to explore out there, I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and many more places that are protected, but other than those places everything seems to be up for grabs.

        If we stopped wanting the mansions and all the things we are told we “need”, if we eliminated some of the chemicals we use in the home and our yards, if we were knowledgeable about what’s in the products we use, if we had our governments looking out for our best interests instead of the lobbyists we might have a chance to see how living differently could be better for us and the future generations. Maybe more people would care.

        I understand how you feel about the Santa Clara Valley, I’ve seen so much wildlife (plants and animals) that have thrived in such desolate areas as Death Valley, each place is important to us even if we don’t know how.


  2. Posted by waterlibrarian on 10/09/2012 at 19:19

    You’ve already done something by writing this blog post. You can also e-mail your city councilperson. You can go to the city council meeting, and even if you don’t say anything, you are showing your support. And if you’re feeling brave enough, you can speak.

    “Mr. Dr. Geary”


    • Yes! I have heckled my county and city officials by email. Apparently Mayor Reed is the last major hurdle, so I emailed him too. Santa Clara County already approved, so it’s now up to the individual cities (Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Jose). I may have a scheduling conflict with the Oct. 23 meeting for San Jose, but I’ll see if I can make it.

      This is the letter I sent (feel free to copy and adapt!):
      I am a long time resident of Santa Clara County and am writing to urge you to vote yes on the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan. One of the things that makes the Silicon Valley such a great place to live is its combination of cosmopolitan cities and wide open spaces. As a nature lover and environmentalist, I believe the long term benefits of habitat preservation should be considered against the immediate economic interests that are pressing for more development. There is no undo button for restoring unique endemic species and ecosystems that we have paved over.

      The Habitat Plan is a responsible and sensible approach to balancing conservation with urban development, and the 46,000 acres it would protect are home to many threatened species. Whenever I am out on a hike, I think that open spaces are one of the greatest legacies we can choose to leave behind for future generations. I hope you will vote in favor of preserving the Bay Area’s natural beauty, wonder, and uniqueness.

      Thank you for your consideration.


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