Henry W. Coe State Park: Ecology

Henry W. Coe State Park is located in the Diablo Range, south of Mt. Hamilton. Its rugged landscape provides a remarkable range of environments. Elevations range from below 1,000 feet to over 3,500 feet. There is a steep declining rainfall gradient from the west side to the east and the ridges, running roughly northwest to southeast provide western slopes baked by the afternoon sun and eastern slopes harboring shaded forests. There is also a temperature gradient, increasing from the Santa Clara Valley across the ridges to the east. Likewise, it is often cool in the valleys and warm on the ridges during inversions; other times it is warm in the valleys and cool on the ridges. Thick soils can support forests, thinner soils meadows, and the rockiest and poorest soils the brush-land called chaparral. Creeks deep in the canyons provide a rich riparian environment.

Given this remarkable habitat diversity, it is no surprise that the park supports a remarkable range of living organisms. There are over 700 species of plants; mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and foxes represent the predators; deer, three species of rabbit, badgers, skunks, raccoons, and countless species of rodents abound; the bird populations, both resident and seasonal, are rich with species, and several rare reptile and amphibian species thrive within the park.

Why should we care about preserving, interpreting, and caring for this large and complex ecosystem?

First, with development encroaching more and more on our wild lands, natural ecosystems are becoming increasingly rare — especially near a huge urban center like the greater San Francisco region.

Second, large natural ecosystems offering such a great range of physical environments serve as an important reservoir to preserve the genetic diversity of its species and to buffer a given species enabling it to acclimate and adapt to short and long-term changing climate. The broader the range of a species the more diverse its pool of genes, and consequently the better protected it is against such changes.

Third, a large ecosystem can provide buffering against short-term catastrophic events such as the recent Lick Fire by providing a mosaic of unburned refuges for animals and sources for re-seeding burned areas. This mosaic of refuges provides especially rich opportunities for post-fire wild-land regeneration. In addition, fire is also an important element in this environment, returning nutrients to the soil, and providing the stimulus that seeds of many species require to germinate.

Fourth, a large ecosystem can sustain a healthy population of top-down predators such as the mountain lion, a crucial element in stabilizing populations of other animals.

Fifth, we have much to learn about how species interact with each other and with man. Understanding these relationships in a large and complex ecosystem is a huge step in this learning process.

Finally, there is a tremendous aesthetic beauty to wild lands stretching as far as the eye can see.

The public deserves to have these lands protected and accessible, to use them as a vehicle to approach an understanding of the natural world, and to understand the importance of their complexity for species survival. Above all, it is necessary to understand how powerfully important these lands are for our own well being and peace of mind. Without public access in perpetuity, the potential aesthetic, educational, and scientific losses will be immeasurable.