Save Panoche Valley


Save Panoche Valley

On February 19 I had the pleasure of joining a group of Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society members on an excursion to Panoche Valley. Like many unknown valleys within California's mountains, Panoche is really a broad plain. It is bordered by the inner coast or Diablo range to the west and low mountains on the east that separate it from the Central Valley.

I had been to Panoche Valley several times before, although not for about six years. On our last visit, Susan and I counted four Roadrunners and other species typical of dry interior habitats on Panoche’s Christmas Bird Count. Like many other intact grassland habitats, this is an excellent place to see raptors such as Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon and Ferruginous Hawk. Mountain Bluebird, Cassin's Kingbird and Phainopepla are other uncommon birds seen in the area.

Perhaps the species that is the most sought after here by birders is the Mountain Plover. In addition to Panoche Valley, the Carrizo Plain, parts of the Imperial Valley and Solano County are the only regions of the state where these birds winter. Recently Susan and I participated in a statewide census of this declining species. We did not see any in the parts of the Central Valley that we searched. In the areas other teams located them they were in fewer numbers than in previous years.

So we were delighted to find four Mountain Plovers on a short grass expanse. These birds are misnamed. They are really a bird of the prairie, both in their small breeding range and in areas where they spend the winter. The photographers among us were especially happy as they approached to within a hundred feet, fed, than ran and fed again.

To the eye this seems a remarkably tranquil spot only two hours form San Jose. Generations of families have raised cattle here and there is a growing industry of organic produce and an organic dairy. However, these families, their way of life and the natural habitats are now in jeopardy. San Benito County has approved a massive solar power facility that would use enormous quantities of water, create dust storms and cover much of the valley floor with millions of mirrors.

The ability to produce clean, renewable power from an unlimited source is clearly a better choice than coal, nuclear or other technologies that have many problems. And there are other locations where the impacts of such a massive project would be acceptable. Panoche Valley is not such a site.

Additionally there is a lot of evidence that the millions of dollars of federal funds that would be spent on this project could be used more efficiently and generate many more jobs if those funds were used on small-scale solar projects.

Save Panoche Valley and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society are the organizations that are pursuing legal action to stop this inappropriate development. For more information on the battle and ways that you can help please contact them. And visit Panoche Valley to get a real appreciation for this unique part of California, its wildlife and the people that live there.