The 2,200 or so snowy plovers that nest on 28 distinct beaches from southern Washington state to Baja California now have a new level of protection to celebrate, as this week the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated nearly 25,000 acres of federal land as critical habitat for the threatened shorebird species. The acreage is a bump from the 12,150 acres that were first designated in 2005 (but then subject to a lawsuit from conservationists), although it is a drop from the 28,000-plus acres proposed in 2011, due mostly to deals worked out with tribal reservations.
There is also an exemption for Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, as the base recently completed an environmental management plan that protects the species accordingly. Outside of federal lands, the service’s spokesperson Lois Grunwald explained, “There will be no direct impact from critical habitat on public access and recreational activities. As a listed species, it is protected with or without critical habitat.” Both Sands Beach near UCSB and Surf Beach near Lompoc are considered great place to see the plover in action, and are subject to seasonal closures.