California Balances Habitat Conservation with Public Beach Access

The Takeaway: The California Coastal Commission acted on the pleas of local residents in a win for both environmental justice and public health.

For 20-plus years, Surf Beach—located on Vandenberg Air Force Base 10 miles west of the City of Lompoc—has been managed, in part, by the U.S. Air Force to protect the federally threatened western snowy plover. The plan restricts visitors to a one-half-mile stretch during summer months. What’s more, when beach violations each summer had reached a certain limit, the beach was closed off to all visitors for the rest of the season. After Lompoc officials and community members raised environmental justice concerns, the California Coastal Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Air Force worked to launch an experimental 2019 program that enabled visitors to enjoy this stretch of Surf Beach all summer long.

The Air Force continued its plover public education efforts and habitat conservation enforcement programs throughout summer 2019. This beach public-access program will continue in 2020, along with monitoring, to determine whether public access and western snowy plover protection during summer nesting season can coexist, year to year.

The management change is a win for environmental justice and public health. Multiple human health studies have shown that access to natural and green spaces relieves stress. Options for stress relief can be especially important in communities facing economic challenges. The ethnically diverse City of Lompoc meets this definition, with lower per capita income levels than California at large ($22,379 versus $35,021) and more persons experiencing poverty (19.1 percent versus 12.8 percent). (2020)

More Information: New Beach Plan Supported

Partners: California Coastal Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vandenberg Air Force Base, City of Lompoc, County of Santa Barbara, California Department of Fish and Wildlife