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Photo by Tom Grey

Conservation Corner September/October 2017

By Shani Kleinhaus and Mackenzie Mossing

Burrowing Owl by Keith Wandry


Fighting for Burrowing Owls in North San Jose

Burrowing Owl populations have plummeted in Santa Clara County due to the aggressive development of grasslands that historically supported hundreds of owls. Pushed to the brink of extirpation, Burrowing Owls rely heavily on sparse patches of remaining viable habitat, most of which lies along the bay north of Highway 237. Yet despite our best efforts to save the dwindling population and raise awareness, a flurry of new development projects threatens to pave over open space and Burrowing Owl habitat and eradicate them from the region for good.


The Habitat Agency levees fees on projects that impact Burrowing Owl habitat. Unfortunately, fees are only calculated within a half-mile radius of an active nest (defined as a nest that has been occupied in the past three years). The result of this condition is that as the Burrowing Owl population declines, fewer pairs nest in our area and thus most of the open space – even prime Burrowing Owl habitat – is exempt from paying fees. 


Unmitigated loss of habitat is the focus of our advocacy efforts in North San Jose. We recently settled a lawsuit involving Burrowing Owl mitigation fees for the Topgolf project in Alviso. We also commented on a large-scale industrial development proposed on 64.5 acres of agricultural land north of Highway 237 between Zanker Road and Coyote Creek. The project includes infrastructure that will cut right through the bufferlands of the Regional Wastewater Facility – an area that supports the last viable population of Burrowing Owls in the South Bay Area. We will continue to follow this project and advocate for better mitigation.


Private Home Development Threatens Critical Wildlife Corridor

A proposal to develop a McMansion on the cusp of North Coyote Valley attracted our attention due to potential impacts on a critical landscape linkage. The seventeen-acre project site is located along the Coyote-Alamitos Canal, on the southern edge of the Santa Teresa Foothills - a narrow ridge connecting Tulare Hill, Metcalf and the Hamilton Range. This is the only ridge connection for wildlife between the bay and Pacheco Pass south of Gilroy. The hills of this area are home to many wildlife species. Laguna Seca, south of the project site, is the county’s largest natural freshwater wetland, where birds gather to quench their thirst and forage for food. While we are working diligently to protect North Coyote Valley, the ridge to its north is now threatened. It’s a wack-a-mole game!


Deer, bobcats, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes use the Coyote Alamitos Canal to move between Tulare Hill and Santa Teresa Park on a daily basis, and to cross safely under Santa Teresa Boulevard. Hawks, Barn Owls, turkeys, and quail have been seen flying and foraging in the canal during summer months.


The project proposal includes plans to develop an access road immediately adjacent to this canal and culvert, which may significantly impede wildlife movement and direct animals onto Santa Teresa Road, posing a risk to wildlife and drivers. In addition, we fear that fencing, pesticides, and human and pet behaviors might also cause conflicts with wildlife.


We are sad to see this beautiful, ecologically important area targeted for development, and hope the City realizes the value in protecting this piece of land. We will advocate for the protection of this critical landscape linkage and fight for the wildlife that rely so heavily on it.


Museum Place

San Jose Planning Commission recently approved a 24-story mixed-use project in the heart of downtown. We expressed concerns due to the large amounts of glass incorporated into the design, posing a potential collision threat to birds that migrate along the nearby Guadalupe River or live in the adjacent Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park (including a large colony of Acorn Woodpeckers).           


After the Planning Commission meeting, we met with the architects to discuss elements of the development that may be hazardous to birds and offer suggestions. We are reassured to see that metal screening, shades, columns, and balcony balustrades may make the building a bit friendlier for birds. This is a small victory that bolsters our campaign to convince developers to build with birds in mind.


San Jose’s Plans for the Homeless 

San Jose is moving forward with plans to construct “tiny home” communities for the homeless throughout the city. Many of the potential sites that were initially identified were along creek corridors and in parklands. While SCVAS is greatly concerned with the displacement/homelessness crisis in our region and is supportive of transitional housing, we believe that housing solutions should not consume our most sensitive environments. Our advocacy efforts have effected a change in the criteria that directs for site-selection to include 100-ft setbacks from creeks.


Learn About the Birds of Facebook’s Living Roof!

Our 18-month report discussing the results of our monthly bird surveys on Facebook’s Living Roof in Menlo Park is now available. The roof supports a complex habitat that has attracted 36 local and migratory bird species. Read the report here!