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Vandenberg beaches reopen two weeks early

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The beaches of Vandenberg reopened to beachgoers Wednesday; nearly two weeks before the official end of the snowy plover breeding season. 

The Vandenberg Natural Resources Office, along with the Fish and Wildlife Service, came to the conclusion that all of this season's plover chicks had completely fledged by Sunday, effectively ending the plover nesting season. 

"This is a direct result of our monitoring," said Susan Christopher, a biologist with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron. "We were able to follow the breeding season and know that we were safely able to open the beaches without any more breeding occurring afterward." 

A bird being fledged means it is completely feathered and has left the nest. The plovers on Vandenberg have all left the nest and no more birds are building new nests. 

As a federal agency, Vandenberg is required by the Federal Endangered Species Act to protect federally listed species, and actively aid in the recovery of those species. The Biological Opinion for Beach Management for the western snowy plover on Vandenberg states the beaches may be reopened after all western snowy plover chicks have fledged. 

The western snowy plover's breeding season usually runs from May to June with their eggs' being laid from March through mid to late August. Plovers can nest between three and four times in a season. 

Since the beach closure and predator control measures began in 1998, the number of breeding snowy plovers has increased from 78 to 269. 

The largest nesting area for the plovers is north Surf Beach; particularly the area between Surf Beach and Ocean Park. This area is also one of the highest visited beaches due in part to easy access to the local community. 

"Vandenberg would like to thank the surrounding communities for their tremendous support during the snowy plover nesting season," said Col. Jack Weinstein, 30th Space Wing commander. "The teamwork in the protection of the plover was vital to the preservation of the species. 

"Although, we are currently looking into manning and budget constraints for future nesting seasons, Vandenberg hopes to continue the great partnership to protect our wildlife and maintain mission success."