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Beaches reopen as plover season closes

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  Approximately 25 percent of the western snowy plover population resides on Vandenberg beaches. The base ensures the federally-protected birds are taken care of by annually closing off access to portions of the coast line in which they nest. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Approximately 25 percent of the western snowy plover population resides on Vandenberg beaches. The base ensures the federally-protected birds are taken care of by annually closing off access to portions of the coast line in which they nest. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Surf, Wall and Minuteman beaches are all fully reopened as snowy plover season comes to a close.

With about 25 percent of the western snowy plover population on Vandenberg, the base does its part to take care of the federally-protected birds by annually closing off access to portions of the coast line in which they nest.

It was generally a good year in regards to increasing the plover population, according base wildlife officials. There were 65-75 fledglings hatched this year, an increase of 10 percent. Yet while there were 296 nests this year, some were lost due to weather, with high winds and tides affecting their nesting. Another 99 were lost to predation, mostly by coyotes and ravens.

The high level of predation was due in part to lower rainfall, which in turn affects grass seed on which rodents feed. A lower population of rodents means hungrier predators.

"All this predation, all these events, the birds are evolved to withstand that; that's why they nest multiple times in a year, so none of that's unusual," said Darryl York, the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron wildlife biologist.

In order to stop high predation rates, a predator management program is in place. Through this program, predators that repeatedly attack the nesting areas are removed. The wildlife office is very careful about doing this, because keeping a balanced ecosystem in place is important.

"(Predators) are a part of the ecosystem; we want to leave them there," Mr. York said. "But if we identify the animal that is eating nests, then we do remove it."

Being a military base and federal property allows for stricter rules regarding protecting the plover and other protected species. 

"Vandenberg is a very unique situation where we have this remote area where very few people are and it's a military installation," Mr. York said. "We can control access onto it. That allows us to be the leaders in plover recovery."

Still, in order to give Lompoc and base residents a close beach to go to during the summer, Vandenberg and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement for limited access during the plover season. This allows for a limited number of violations. Numbers of these violations were down this year, with only 29 at Surf Beach and one each at Wall and Minuteman beaches. Most of the violations at Surf Beach were from visitors who reside outside of the county, as far away as Missouri.

Although the beaches are now completely open, there are still several rules in place year-round. These are: 

- Overnight camping is prohibited 
- Pets must be on a leash at all times 
- Littering is prohibited 
- Recreational off-road vehicles are prohibited 
- Fireworks are prohibited

Surf Beach, which was open until dusk during the plover season, is now open 24 hours. For more information on beach rules and hours of operation, call 606-6804.