Surf Beach will be closed for the remaining duration of the snowy plover nesting season, which runs from March 1 through September 30, after the area this weekend reached its maximum allowed 50 habitat violations. “The policy for protecting the plover is set in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said First Lieutenant Austin Fallin, a Vandenberg Air Force Base spokesperson. “Our end of the deal is to enforce that.”
To comply with the Endangered Species Act, Vandenberg negotiated a ten-year agreement with Fish and Wildlife in which a small portion of Surf Beach would be open during nesting season until it reached a 50-violation limit. Violations include entering areas marked as plover nesting sites. Fallin explained this is the earliest Surf Beach has ever been closed during the nesting period. The other two beaches on Vandenberg property — Wall Beach and Minuteman Beach — remain open. They are both allowed 10 violations; currently, Wall has nine and Minteman has one.
A padlocked fence and signage currently notifies the public of the Surf Beach’s closure until the end of September. Those who are caught entering the beach will be subject to prosecution for trespassing on federal property. For Lompoc residents for which Surf Beach is their only point of contact with the Pacific Ocean, the next closest beach is Jalama Beach, which is 20 miles away off Highway 1.
The western snowy plover has been listed as a threatened species since March 5, 1993. According to the species’s recovery plan, the goal is to sustain a target population of 3,000 breeding adults for ten years. Out of those 3,000, the plan affixes a target number of 1,200 to the beaches of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties. Fish and Wildlife estimates that this goal will be reached in 2047, which would result in the de-listing of the plover.
In 2002, the Lompoc Surf Ocean Beach Commission petitioned to have the snowy plover de-listed earlier, spurring a four-year investigation. Fish and Wildlife concluded in April 2006 that the de-listing was not warranted. More information about the recovery plan can be found on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.