Thursday, March 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 3

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 1

Portions of local beaches closed for snowy plover season


Vandenberg Air Force Base announced partial closures at three Lompoc-area beaches that began on March 1 and will extend until Sept. 30, the nesting season of the Western snowy plover. Closures at Surf, Wall, and Minuteman beaches are to protect nesting habitat for the plover, which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

According to a release from Vandenberg, those who violate the restrictions can be fined up to $5,000 in federal court, and those who harm hatchlings or eggs can be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to a year.

“We protect the snowy plover by closing specific areas of the beaches, managing predators and restoring plover habitat to compensate for the effects of recreational beach use during the breeding season,” Samantha Kaisersatt, a biological scientist with the Air Force’s 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, said in a statement. “Beach closures also include a prohibition on dogs, horses, and kites.”

Lompoc area beaches aren’t the only ones partially closed beginning March 1. The Rancho Guadalupe Dunes has partial closures from March 1 through Oct. 1, according to the Santa Barbara County Parks Department’s website.

Snowy plovers nest in sandy dunes and riparian habitats, according to information available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, and the species’ nesting season coincides with the spring and summer months that sees increased tourism and recreation at local beaches.

The nests are “basically a scraped out spot in the sand,” according to John Deacon, a local birder who leads hikes in the dunes near Guadalupe and Oceano for the Dunes Center.

“The eggs and the young are very easy to damage and they’re highly susceptible to predation, so people walking in the dunes might step on them without even realizing it,” Deacon told the Sun. “And people with dogs, even if they’re on a leash, may do some damage to them, which is just dogs being dogs.”

Plovers begin their migration in early March and usually begin nesting in late March, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nesting and hatching can happen throughout the months leading up to September.

The nests usually include small “pebbles and things” to “help camouflage the eggs,” Deacon explained. Even after the birds hatch, they’re still in danger, he said.

“The young are very precocious, so they are up and running around within hours of being born, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to predation,” he said. “They’re just little puff balls. I don’t know if anybody goes out there and tries to harm the nests, it’s just inadvertent damage caused by human activity in the nesting area.”

The Central Coast includes a large portion of the snowy plover’s protected nesting habitat, from Point Conception to the Oceano Dunes in SLO County.

The partial beach closures are a regular occurrence that local hikers and birders are used to, Deacon said.

“Some people may think that this little bird isn’t important at all and can’t understand why the beach gets shut to human access every year, but if you believe in the Endangered Species Act and the good it can do to to help animals not just maintain their populations but continue to flourish, then yeah, it’s important,” he said.

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