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Base beaches reopen for fall, winter; plover chicks grown

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 opened Surf and Wall Beaches on Sept. 15. The closed section of Minuteman Beach will open on Sept. 22.

Restrictions were lifted early this year since all western snowy plover chicks have fledged, according to the lead snowy plover monitor at Vandenberg.

Yearly beach restrictions are enforced on Wall, Minuteman and Surf beaches from March 1 to Sept. 30, to protect breeding grounds for the federally protected species.

This year Surf Beach had nearly half the number of violations to the restrictions as last year, said Rhys Evans, lead natural resources conservationist at Vandenberg.  A maximum of 50 violations per year are allowed. If this number is reached, the beach closes until the end of September. 

The restrictions are part of an agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of the Federal Endangered Species Act, requiring Vandenberg to create a safe breeding area for about 400 nests annually and actively aid in the recovery of those species.

"It's interesting to note that a majority of successful plover nests on the southern California coast can be found on Vandenberg, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Naval Station Coronado near San Diego," stated a report by Mr. Evans. "The Department of Defense is a leader in wildlife conservation, though our primary mission is to protect our nation."

All of this year's plover chicks were fledged by Sept. 15 at Wall and Surf beaches, according to the report. Base officials notified the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the plover status and the decision to open sections of Wall and Surf Beach.

The number of sucessful nests is down compared to last year, with a substantial number of losses due to predators, Mr. Evans said.