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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 5:41 am | Fair 50º


Ron Fink: Surf/Ocean Park Beach Closure Is For The Birds

Back in 1995 environmental activists were all abuzz about the possibility of creating another science project that would exclude people from beaches that had been used for recreation by the people of the Lompoc Valley for over 125 years.

Out-of-the-way Lompoc was their target and closing Surf and Ocean Park beaches was part of their plan.

To do it, they enlisted the U.S. Air Force to project power into their offensive effort. Surf Beach is the domain of four entities; the county owns the parking lot, the Union Pacific Railroad the track easement, Vandenberg AFB owns the sand and the state owns the coastal waters.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laid out some strict guidelines, far more onerous than for other publicly owned beaches, and after a short public comment period the Air Force saluted smartly and carried out their orders.

The environmental activists won this battle and the beach would become the exclusive domain of researchers and the little birds during the warmest periods of the year.

This year the beach, a popular destination for locals and out-of-town visitors alike will close early again.  But, have the closures really helped the plover population?
According to VAFB officials: “Under the guidelines of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's western snowy plover recovery plan, Vandenberg must meet a target population of 400 adult breeding birds and maintain that number over a 10-year period in order to consider delisting the species as threatened.”
Let’s look at facts; according to scientific documents, in 1980, there were 119 breeding pairs identified on Vandenberg. But, after some 30-years of counting them, there were only 234 in 2016.

After more than six generations of breeding and spending untold defense dollars on habitat restoration, nest monitoring and enforcement activities, the sustained average count of 400 needed to lift the closures hasn’t been met, nor is likely to in the future.

At the current rate, most people living in Lompoc and the officials responsible for closures will be long gone if the goal is ever reached.

I thought that exclusion of humans was going to fix the problem since all the “science” used to support the need for closures condemned human access as the primary cause for a decline in population, but that doesn’t seem to be help.

A 2016 monitoring report to Vandenberg officials, prepared by the Marine Ecology Division of Point Blue Conservation Science may help explain the problem:

“One of the primary causes of poor clutch hatch success at VAFB is predation.  Over the 20 years of monitoring on VAFB, 17%-52% of nests have been lost in a given year to predators.”

The main predators observed are coyotes, crows and ravens. “From 1994-2000 American crows were the main corvids observed on VAFB beaches, but common ravens have become the dominant corvid in recent years.”

Humans weren’t mentioned in the report as a cause of nest losses.

So, there you have it, as many have claimed it was nature, not people who caused the losses.

But humans are much easier to manage than predators, just put up a “Beach closed” sign and then fine them if they trespass; that doesn’t work with predators because they don’t read signs.

It looks like experts were wrong about both who is causing the problem and how many birds the beach can sustain, but reopening the beach is not an option since the military is just following orders and the activists and regulators have staked their reputations on the current recovery plan.

A couple of years ago, the USFWS required Vandenberg to provide another 100 feet of inland sand as critical habitat for the plover because they claim greenhouse gases are melting the icebergs and we may lose beach sand; when will this insanity stop?

Clearly, the exclusion of people from Surf and Ocean Park beaches has not helped the WSP population, while the inclusion of people and dogs on Sands Beach near Devereux Point in Goleta has allowed the birds to flourish which is contrary to environmentalist’s claims.

So, why not keep the beaches west of Lompoc open year around and see what happens? It couldn’t get any worse for the birds, but it would get better for the people.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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