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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. -- Vandenberg will close its beaches in order to support the seasonal restrictions in place to protect local populations of the western snowy plover. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The nesting season begins Saturday 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 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.

This year, 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

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 2007, 170 plovers built about 263 nests and hatched 370 chicks.

"Vandenberg is proud of our part in the plover conservation program," said Rhys Evans, the Natural Resources Program leader at Vandenberg. "Our base is habitat to nearly 20 percent of the known population of this charismatic shorebird. The Department of Defense is a leader in wildlife conservation, though our primary mission is to protect our nation."

Beach closures include a prohibition on pets, horses, flying objects such as kites and Frisbees (which birds can mistake for a predator), as well as collection of driftwood for shelters or fires. Mr. Evans said beach users should also be vigilant toward litter on the beach - "pack it in, pack it out."

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.