Depending on where you live in the Santa Ynez Valley, if you get the itch to take the family to the beach you have only two reasonable choices — El Capitan or Surf Beach.
The distances from, say, downtown Solvang to each of those ocean-front meccas is about the same, but because of traffic and highway availability, you can get to El Capitan a lot sooner.
On the other hand, when the weather’s nice, you’re likely to encounter a much larger crowd at El Capitan, and who wants to go to a crowded beach or when the weather’s dreadful?
If you’d prefer to walk the beach in relative solitude, Surf would be the natural choice, even with the longer commute from the Valley.
But there’s a problem, and it’s the same problem year in and year out. Surf Beach is now officially closed until the calendar-mandated end of the nesting season of the Western snowy plover, a drop-dead cutie of a bird, but a species that doesn’t do all that well when a lot of humans are tramping over their nesting area.
And Surf Beach definitely falls into that category. The plover probably likes Surf Beach for the same reasons humans like it — surf, sand, dunes and relative peace and quiet.
But the area — or at least major segments of it — is shut down every year since the feds decided there weren’t enough Western snowy plover to continue the species and set a limit on the number of violations of restrictions on where humans could go at Surf Beach. The magic number is 50.
Don’t look for relief from the beach closings anytime soon, if ever. Wildlife experts reckon the plover will need 3,000 breeding pairs to even qualify for removal from the federal Endangered Species Act roster. They also reckon that won’t happen until at least 2047.
So, having maxed out this season’s allowable violations, Surf Beach was officially closed to the public last Friday, until at least the end of August, although the ban could be extended because the official end of the plover’s nesting period runs through September.
This has been going on since the 1990s, with the closure date fluctuating and dependent on when folks cross the line too many times into the plovers' turf.
We also have written about this for years, often wondering what there is about the potential extinction of a small, but truly magnificent creature that so many humans either don’t understand, or don’t care about.
The planet is losing species at an alarming rate, which could turn out to be a huge problem, because most living things are players in a delicate, interactive ballet which maintains balance in nature, and in mankind’s existence.
A good example of this has been the recent die-off of bees, which are the conduits for the growth and survival of so many plants, which feed the animals — humans included — and maintain a balance of life on Earth.
That’s an issue of global significance. What most folks here on the Central Coast are primarily concerned about is having access to local beaches, so they can enjoy the wonders of the nature.
It’s a shame Surf Beach has to be closed, but it is important. It’s notable that this year’s closure came more than a month later than last year’s shutdown. Maybe we are gaining a little more respect for the plover’s need for privacy at this crucial segment of their life-sustaining cycle.
One can only hope that’s true.