March brings restricted beach access at VAFB 7 because of snowy plover

2006-03-03T00:00:00Z March brings restricted beach access at VAFB 7 because of snowy ploverJanene Scully/Associate Editor Santa Maria Times
March 03, 2006 12:00 am  • 

A Santa Ynez woman, her son and five dogs racked up the first seven violations at Surf Beach as the Western snowy plover nesting season began, military officials said.

The federally protected tiny shorebird/s nesting season 7 stretching from March 1 to Sept. 30 7 brings restrictions for users of Vandenberg Air Force Base beaches.

The woman, whose name wasn/t released, reportedly told authorities she didn/t see the signs when she and a male, reportedly her teen son, were spotted about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday at Surf Beach, Air Force officials said. Only the adult was cited.

To assist the plover population/s comeback, portions of Vandenberg/s beaches are closed and access is restricted during the bird/s nesting season, officials said. Snowy plovers make nests in small indentations in the sand, which camouflages eggs.

Under an agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Air Force allowing people to use Surf during nesting season, the beach must close once 50 violations occur.

&#8220Everybody wants to make sure the beach is accessible for the remainder of the nesting season,C said Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Danét, a Vandenberg spokeswoman. &#8220I/m sure people will work together to make that happen.C

That cap is based on violations 7 the number of times rules are broken 7 and not the number of citations actually issued. In some cases, trespassers aren/t caught or cited, but a confirmed trespassing incident or other violation counts toward the closure cap.

In this case, each dog and each human count as a violation of beach-access rules, pushing the tally to seven.

&#8220Wow, it/s only March 2. It/ll be closed by the first of May if people are not careful,C said Ron Fink, a member of the Surf/Ocean Beach Commission. &#8220The important thing is for people to follow the rules. Read the signs.C

The group of Lompoc Valley beach users has fought for access to the shoreline during nesting season, and has petitioned to remove the bird from the Endangered Species List.

That effort remains on hold in federal court until the end of this month. The case, first filed in early 2004, was &#8220stayed,C awaiting release of a scientific study conducted by the Fish & Wildlife Service before a ruling is issued.

&#8220It/s just been quiet,C said Rob Rivett, attorney with Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit group that battles for property-rights issues.

Along with the publicly accessible Surf Beach at the end of Highway 246, other areas affected by plover season rules are two segments of shoreline used only by those with Vandenberg passes 7 Minuteman Beach on the far north end of the base, and Wall Beach, off 35th Street.

These beaches are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Beach and dune areas beyond fences marking inaccessible areas are off limits.

During plover season, pets, campfires, littering, motorized vehicles or bicycles, kite-flying and camping are banned.

All other Vandenberg beaches are closed for nesting season.

Surf Beach/s open area stretches a half mile adjacent to Surf Station or via a one-half mile trail through the back dunes from Ocean Park. Violations at the closest beach to Lompoc Valley are limited to 50.

One-quarter mile of Wall Beach is open, with only 10 violation allowed. On the northern portion of the base, one-half mile of Minuteman Beach is open area with 10 violations permitted.

Last year, authorities counted 36 violations at Surf Beach, six at Wall and five at Minuteman during the seven-month snowy plover nesting season.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has set a goal of 400 adult breeding birds as Vandenberg/s target population.

That number must be maintained over 10 years before the agency would consider removing the species from the list. At the beginning of 2005, the adult breeding population was 275.

Federal officials contend that Vandenberg is critical in ensuring the species recovers. During a June statewide census, 15 percent of the 1,680 adult snowy plovers counted were on Vandenberg. Surf and Wall beaches accounted for nearly 10 percent of the California population, according to a federal biologist.

About 600 snowy plover chicks are known to have hatched on Vandenberg beaches during the 2005 season.

The first few years, Surf/Ocean Beach Commission members served as docents to educate and inform beach users about the importance of following the rules.

They have since ended that, saying that environmental groups should take over the program. So far, none has stepped up to revive the program.

Janene Scully can be reached at 739-2214 or janscully@santa

March 3, 2006

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