There is winter in California, followed by spring, and then the Western snowy plover season. Guess which season is already underway.
If you guessed the season related to the plover and its relationship with Surf Beach, you win the grand prize, which you will have to share with just about everyone who lives in this area and likes visiting local beaches in the summer.
Surf Beach is roughly 10 miles west of Lompoc, and along with Gaviota State Beach down the coast a bit is about the nearest beach for mid-county residents.
Surf Beach also happens to be on property owned and operated by the federal government, the military reservation known as Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Just about every summer for the past two decades, the Air Force has been compelled by federal law to close Surf Beach to human activities, always following a set number of incursions into territory set aside for the nesting plover, which according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a threatened species.
Air Force officials really don’t have much of a choice. As long as the tiny shorebird is on the threatened and/or endangered list, and as long as humans continue to trample their nesting areas during the late spring and summer months, the beach will face almost certain closure.
It is truly a shame, too, because Surf Beach is a beachgoer’s paradise. Sloping dunes, beautiful Pacific Ocean vistas, a terrific surf-fishing spot, which a lot of local folks take advantage of for sport or for that night’s dinner — when the beach is open to the public.
In recent years, the closures have come earlier and earlier in the year, once the arbitrary number of violations has been exceeded. Those closures hurt not only beachgoers, but also the many businesses that sell goods and services to people, primarily in the city of Lompoc.
All that is why city officials are on a campaign to maintain year-round accessibility to Surf Beach. A letter prepared this month by Lompoc City Manager Jim Throop challenges the Air Force’s act of closing the beach, while asking the California Coastal Commission to remove the restrictions on Surf Beach, which would facilitate reopening the beach for fishing.
The primary argument officials are making is that the closures hurt the local economy, while depriving local residents of access to one of the region’s more popular recreational areas.
The local economy angle is especially pressing for Lompoc, which is mired in a fiscal hole so deep that elected leaders can’t seem to reach agreement on how to fill the budget chasm. It is also evident that closing beaches during the prime summer months punishes folks, most of whom are not committing the infractions that cause the closures.
That all is just common sense. What really doesn’t make sense, and a fact that likely will strengthen the case for closing the beach, is that the core reason for the shutdowns is that too many humans have no respect for the plover, and despite barriers and warnings posted at Surf Beach, continue to blunder into — or go deliberately — and trample the plover nests.
Humans have a long list of natural enemies, but none more daunting and relentless then themselves. Think — self-inflicted wounds.
Lompoc officials are making their pitch about Surf Beach to the California Coastal Commission, whose members may very well point out that if humans didn’t break the rules, Surf Beach would not be closed every summer.
The Western snowy plover may be tiny, but it is worthy of our respect.