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Feds reduce plover habitat but beach closures remain

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently completed its final designation of critical habitat for the Western snowy plover, a threatened species that nests along thousands of acres of Central Coast beaches. Though the critical-habitat area is smaller, beachgoers won't notice any changes- signs and fences will remain in place to protect the federally threatened species.

"Effectively along the beaches, it doesn't change anything," said Lois Grunwald, with the Ventura FWS office.

Compared to the original habitat designation adopted in 1999, the new habitat map- released on Sept. 26- is 40 percent smaller. The newest outline of the plover's protected habitat, which stretches from Washington to Southern California, encompasses a total of 12,145 acres. This final area is more than 5,000 acres smaller than a 2004 proposal.

Between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, the plover now has 2,954 fewer federally protected acres. The FWS cut 930 acres from Vandenberg Air Force Base beaches, 1,269 from Pismo Beach and Nipomo, 611 acres from Morro Bay, and 144 acres from Atascadero.

The FWS is currently reviewing the status of the plover after the Surf-Ocean Beach Commission of Lompoc and the city of Morro Bay each filed petitions to delist the bird. The federal service has until March 31, 2006, to decide whether to move forward with changing the bird's protected status.

-A.R.

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