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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. -- All sections of Surf and Wall Beaches are slated to close March 1, for the nesting season of the western snowy plover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be implementing the seasonal restrictions placed to protect the population of the tiny shorebirds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg's beaches close once again as the nesting season begins Sunday 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.

"Closing beaches prevents the crushing of eggs and chicks by people walking in the sand and also eliminates human disturbance that causes adult plovers to abandon nests," said Darryl York, a 30th Civil Engineer Squadron wildlife biologist. "The eggs and chicks are almost impossible to see by the untrained eye. Beach recreationists may inadvertently lay their beach towel right next to a nest and prevent the adult from incubating the eggs until they are too cold. These closures are intended to keep that from happening."

The affected beaches are Minuteman on the far north end of the base, Wall Beach off of 35th St. and Surf Beach at the end of Highway 246. Open hours at Surf Beach are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Open areas are clearly described on signs at each beach. 

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

Beach access at Wall and Minuteman will 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.

Every entry into closed areas counts as a violation of beach restrictions. If a specified violation limit is reached at a particular beach, that entire beach will be closed for the remainder of the nesting season.

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.

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 2008, 207 plovers built about 295 nests and hatched 324 chicks.

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.

"Harming or harassing a federally listed endangered species carries severe penalties," Mr. York said. "It is a federal law, and U.S. special agents will enforce it."

"Enjoy the beaches that are open," Mr. York added. "Let others know that if they violate the beach restrictions it can result in the beaches being closed for everyone; and no one wants that."

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.