Beginning today, people going to beaches on Vandenberg Air Force Base will have less space due to the opening of the annual nesting season for a small shorebird.
Restrictions related to the Western snowy plover and its nesting habitat mean that only one-half mile of Surf Beach is open from March 1 through Sept. 30.
Additionally, one-quarter mile of Wall Beach and one-half mile of Minuteman Beach are accessible to people with passes to enter Vandenberg.
All other beaches at Vandenberg remain closed under an agreement between base officials and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service representatives to protect the plover by restricting public access to the shoreline.
The Endangered Species Act requires federal property such as Vandenberg to implement more strict rules than other coastal locations that also are home to plovers.
“We protect the snowy plover by employing beach closures, predator management
and habitat restoration to offset adverse effects of recreational beach use during the breeding season,” said Samantha Kaisersatt, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron biologic scientist. “Beach closures include a prohibition on dogs, horses and kites.”
The agreement established limits for violations of rules at the beaches. Once those limits are reached, the beaches must close for the remainder of the season.
Those limits are 50 for Surf Beach, 10 for Wall Beach and 10 for Minuteman Beach. Anyone who enters into any posted closed area counts as a violation.
In 2011, beach-goers racked up 32 violations at Surf, seven violations at Wall and five at Minuteman. The total number of violations rose 61 percent over 2010, Vandenberg officials said.
Early in the 2011 season, a spike in violations at Wall Beach prompted Vandenberg’s commanders to temporarily close that shoreline. The same thing happened in 2010 at Minuteman Beach.
Breaking the rules can lead to fines up to $5,000 in federal courts. Violating the Endangered Species Act — such as crushing eggs or chicks — can bring fines up to $50,000 in federal court and imprisonment for up to one year.
To boost plover habitat at the base, eight Santa Barbara Zoo conservationists volunteered at Vandenberg on Tuesday.
“Today we are removing non-native invasive species,” Kaisersatt said. “All this plant material out here that is brown, that’s all ice plant from South Africa. It was introduced here to stabilize the sand but it prevents the plover from nesting in these areas.”
Plovers make their nests in small indentations in the sand so their eggs and chicks are especially vulnerable to people, pets and predators.
Vandenberg’s beaches have been deemed critical to successfully boosting plover populations and removing them from the Endangered Species List.
The plover recovery plan calls for a sustained population of 400 adult birds over a 10-year period. Vandenberg has reached the recovery number only once, in 2004, she added.
Vandenberg has 246 adult plovers, according to a basewide breeding census, which is 70 percent more than in 2010, Kaisersatt said in September.