VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Base leadership has temporarily closed Minuteman Beach here due to beach access violations during the western snowy plover nesting season here March 29.
On March 5, 1993, the Pacific Coast population of the western snowy plover was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 as threatened.
Under the guidelines of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's western snowy plover recovery plan, Vandenberg must meet a target population of 400 adult breeding birds and maintain that number over a 10 year period in order to consider delisting the species as threatened.
"We've gotten off to a slow start this year," said Mr. Darryl York, a 30th Civil Engineer Squadron environmental flight wildlife biologist. "This time last year, Vandenberg reported 47 western snowy plover nests on the beaches here. Due to the recent high tides at the beaches, we have only recorded nine nests this year. However, we are assuming that we will find more nests as soon as the tides recede."
Vandenberg's beaches are the breeding grounds for approximately a third of the population of western snowy plovers on the Central Coast, between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
"Vandenberg's beaches are important to the recovery of the western snowy plover," Mr. York said. "With more than 30 miles of undeveloped coastline, Vandenberg provides the western snowy plover with some of the best habitat locations on the Central Coast."
Portions of Vandenberg's beaches, including Wall, Surf and Minuteman, close March 1 through Sept. 30 every year to aid in the recovery of the western snowy plover.
"Human activity on beaches, such as walking, jogging, walking pets, operating off-road vehicles, and horseback riding during the western snowy plover breeding season has caused a significant decline in the species," Mr. York said. "Such activities can inadvertently cause the destruction of eggs and chicks, ultimately disrupting the recovery of the species."
Other than Minuteman Beach, Wall and Surf beaches are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Fences and dune areas demarcate off-limits. Every entry into closed areas counts as a violation of beach restrictions. If a specified violation limit is reached at a particular beach, that beach will be closed entirely for the remainder of the nesting season.
"One of the major problems we've encountered on Minuteman Beach is patrons ignoring the signs," said Edward Panas, a 30th Security Forces Squadron conservation officer. "For those people planning on going to the beaches around here, please pay attention to the signs to avoid further beach violations from occurring."
Failure to comply with restrictions is a violation of federal law and may result in fines and penalties. Fines can reach up to $50,000 and penalties can be as much as more than one year in jail, Mr. Panas said.
For a complete list of beach rules and current beach violations, visit http://www.vandenberg.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-100401-084.pdf