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30th CES to restore snowy plover habitats

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A rehabilitation project designed to benefit the western snowy plover species is set to begin in late February to its completion in early March.

Members of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron are teaming up to restore dune habitats and remove any non-native dune vegetation that could prove hazardous to the six-inch shorebird.

"The upcoming habitat rehabilitation includes restoration at Purisima Point and Minuteman Beach," said Samantha Kaisersatt, 30th CES biological scientist. "Restoration of the dune habitat includes eradication of non-native invasive plant species and dune contouring. Currently, we are conducting suppression of foreign plants within these areas, which include prescribed burns planned in late February and early March."

These prescribed burns, which will produce a better breeding habitat for an endangered species like the snowy plover, will be performed by the Vandenberg Hotshots and the Fire Department.

"The project consists of two prescribed burns: the Minuteman burn and the Purisima burn," said Jesse Hendricks, 30th CES Hotshot superintendent. "The burns will be executed by the Vandenberg Hotshots and Fire Department. The Minuteman burn consists of 140 acres and is located along Minuteman Beach between Shuman and San Antonio Creeks. The Purisima burn consists of 60 acres and is located at Purisima Point on the beach near Space Launch Complex-2. The objective of the burns is to improve and increase the habitat of the western snowy plover by removing the invasive, non-native beach grass. By reducing the biomass, adverse effects of sensitive cultural resources will be avoided, and will allow the dunes to dissipate to its natural contour."

In addition to the burns on the ground, the 30th CES has also devised an aerial charting of the area for the project.

"From Feb. 15 through 26, we're going to have a contracted biologist placed in a helicopter to support the management of invasive weeds by mapping weed areas from overhead," said Luanne Lum, 30th CES botanist. "The biologist will fly with the pilot within 1,000 feet above the ground, focusing on mapping exotic weeds in the coastal region depending on weather conditions and other restrictions such as launches. The advantage of flying areas in a helicopter is to efficiently cover large regions and remote locations with thick brush that are difficult to access on foot."

Because of the recreational beach access to areas that support snowy plover breeding, base officials take precautionary steps each year to protect its endangered inhabitant and maintain their environment.

"The goal of the project is to eradicate non-native dune vegetation to offset the adverse effects of allowing recreational access along the coastline on Vandenberg within snowy plover habitat," said Kaisersatt. "Completion of the dune restoration at Surf Beach resulted in 38 snowy plover nests established in restored areas in 2014 and 27 nests in 2015. Completion of the restoration at Wall Beach resulted in 38 nests established in restored areas in 2015."