The snowy plover nesting prompts the partial closure of Surf Beach from March through September each year but some Lompoc city leaders want to put an end to the closures in an effort to bolster tourism.
“Generations have been growing up without having summer access to this beach,” Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby said.
Though summer vacation is synonymous with the beach, the warmest months of the year in Santa Barbara County’s northern coast do not offer full access to Surf Beach.
“They are dependent on the beach as an ecosystem for survival,” Point Blue Conservation Scientist Dan Robinette, who works with the snowy plovers at VAFB, said.
Robinette said the bird’s home includes about 14 miles of beach at Vandenberg Airforce Base.
“On the Central Coast, we really have a place where there’s very little disruption, we haven’t developed a lot of this stretch of coast,” Robinette said.
The fact that the beach isn’t groomed like heavily trafficked areas in Southern California leave the birds more of their natural habitat, according to Robinette.
Anyone who violates the closures could be fined $5,000 and once there are 50 violations, all of Surf Beach will be closed.
Mosby said the beach belongs to the community of Lompoc, as well as the threatened species.
“It’s important for this beach to be open for the people,” Mosby said. “We believe snowy plovers and people can get along together.”
Mosby agrees with Lompoc City Manager Jim Throop, who is pushing the Coastal Commission to end these annual beach closures.
In a recent letter to the Commission, Throop said Lompoc’s tourism industry suffers when tourists can’t access the whole beach.
“For quite a few years, 100 plus years, people have been cohabitating with the plover and they’ve been surviving,” Mosby said.
The birds have been surviving but not necessarily thriving, according to recent data that shows 49 plover eggs were laid at Surf Beach in 2016 but only 36 plover chicks hatched.
“When a human is present the bird will get off the nest and that leaves the eggs exposed to weather,” Robinette said, adding that predators can also raid the empty nest.
Supporters of keeping the beach open note data showing people destroyed zero nests in 2016, while coyotes and ravens destroyed 98 nests and surf and winds that year claimed 35 nests on the north and south beach.
In his letter, the Throop adds that other beaches in Santa Barbara County have more plovers and should be subject to annual closures instead.
A petition to end the closures is posted online.