Vandenberg AFB Burns Beach Grass to Help Plovers

Invasives Go up in Smoke

The 30th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Fire Protection Flight at Vandenberg Air Force Base conducted a controlled burn last Thursday, October 22, dubbed the Dunes Burn. It scorched 30 acres of land located north of Surf Beach and south of Ocean Beach in Lompoc, from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The rugged territory is home to a variety of wildlife including the endangered Western snowy plover, a threatened shorebird that nests on local beaches. In response to the critical state of the species, the burn sought to improve and expand its habitat by removing the invasive, nonnative vegetation.

By reducing the plant material, base officials say adverse impacts to sensitive cultural resources will be averted and will allow the dunes to return to their natural contour.

The invasive grass - colloquially referred to as beach grass - has outgrown native plant species, severely limiting the diversity found in the area. Due to its hardy underground stem system, beach grass is perfectly suited to flourish in sandy habitats characterized by high winds. It is these adaptations that make it necessary to occasionally burn the area, forcing the grass to surrender its chokehold on plant variety.

According to base officials, the Dunes Burn marked the first attempt at brush removal in the area and is projected to be a one-time activity supplemented with routine environmental treatments of the location.

Taking into account the recent Jesusita Fire that ravaged the Santa Barbara coast, crews took heavy precautions before the territory went up in smoke. They prepared the site by making control lines to contain the burn, using hand tools to cut the lines.

In addition to determining boundaries, the crews gave plenty of notice to residents and neighboring park-goers to prevent any possible panic panic, according to Captain Jesse Henricks of the Vandenberg Hot Shots. He said that the burn and its purpose were announced and publicized a week prior to the event, permitting Lompoc natives to plan accordingly. “The main concern is always public notification,” he said. “The public needs time to prepare in case of smoke in the nearby areas.” The territory closed off for the burn has been reopened to the public, allowing State Park revelers to continue enjoying the seaside sunshine.

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