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Base beaches close as snowy plover nesting season begins

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Restrictions have been lifted on Minuteman, Surf and Wall beaches as the Western snowy plover season came to a close here Friday, Sept. 17, 2010. Vandenberg's three local beaches close once a year from March 1 to Sept. 30 (beaches reopened two weeks earlier this season) for the tiny shorebird listed as threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 
(U.S. Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Restrictions have been lifted on Minuteman, Surf and Wall beaches as the Western snowy plover season came to a close here Friday, Sept. 17, 2010. Vandenberg's three local beaches close once a year from March 1 to Sept. 30 (beaches reopened two weeks earlier this season) for the tiny shorebird listed as threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. (U.S. Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg's beaches will close once again as the nesting season begins March 1 for a tiny shorebird listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The western snowy plover nests on Vandenberg beaches from March 1 through Sept. 30 each year. To aid the species' recovery, portions of Vandenberg's beaches are closed and access is restricted during the bird's nesting season.

"The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystem on which these species depend," said Samantha Kaisersatt, a 30th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist. "Human activities such as walking and jogging can destroy the western snowy plover's nests and chicks and cause disturbance that can result in abandonment of nests and interruption of feeding or incubating activity, which would be a violation of the ESA."

Vandenberg's conservation efforts, including beach restrictions, predator management and habitat restoration, have paid off through the years: Basewide egg hatch success was estimated at 61 percent in 2010, compared to 47 percent in 2002 (the first year for which this data was collected on a consistent basis). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives Vandenberg a target population of 400 adult breeding birds maintained over 10 years in order to consider delisting this species. In 2010, 30th CES biologists recorded the number of adults at 174, which was an increase from 2009.

"Vandenberg plays a critical role in the conservation of the western snowy plover," Ms. Kaisersatt said. "Over 20 percent of the population is found on Vandenberg beaches."

During plover season, the general public can still find beach access available at a portion of Surf Beach at the end of Highway 246, and military members can find recreational beach access available at portions of Wall Beach off of 35th Street and Minuteman Beach on the far north end of the base. All other sandy beaches on Vandenberg are closed during the breeding season. Open hours at Surf Beach are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Open areas are clearly described on signs at each beach. Beach access at Wall and Minuteman will continue to be allowed from sunrise to sunset on a trial basis. If five or more violations of open hours and restricted areas at either of these beaches are detected, open hours will revert to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Beach access and violation limits are as follows:

Surf Beach - Open area is one-half mile long adjacent to Surf Station, accessible directly from the Amtrak station or via a one-half-mile trail through the back dunes from Ocean Park. Violation limit - 50

Wall Beach - Open area is the northernmost one-quarter mile of the beach. Violation limit - 10

Minuteman Beach - Open area is the northernmost one-half mile of the beach. Violation limit - 10

Signs listing restrictions are posted at each beach. Every entry into closed areas counts as a violation of beach restrictions. If the specified violation limit is reached at a particular beach, that entire beach will be closed for the remainder of the nesting season. Beach closures include a prohibition on pets, horses, flying objects such as kites and Frisbees (which birds can mistake for a predator), and driftwood collected for shelters or fires.

"Violators of beach restrictions can be fined up to $5,000 in federal court," Ms. Kaisersatt said. "Violators of the ESA (crushing eggs and chicks) can be fined up to $50,000 in federal court and imprisonment for one year."

For more information on the western snowy plover, including a map of species occurrence, go to http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=B07C.  

SIDEBAR -
In September 2007, the State of California designated Surf Beach and nearby beaches as "no fishing zones" under the auspices of the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve. This action was not undertaken by the U.S. Air Force. Active duty personnel are still allowed to fish in certain areas. For more information, contact Conservation Law Enforcement at 606-6804.