Vandenberg Air Force Base, including the Santa Ynez Estuary, covers nearly 100,000 acres on the coast of northern Santa Barbara County, just north of Pt. Concepcion. Like Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County, it is a DoD property that could easily qualify as a national park with its spectacular scenery and rich natural resources. Bisected by the Santa Ynez River (see above), it extends east to near Lompoc (Harris Grade Rd./ Miguelito Rd.) and supports a staggering diversity of habitats, from coastal Bishop Pine forest to tidal marsh to mature cottonwood-willow riparian woodland. It also protects several plant and animal taxa found nowhere else one earth, including an endemic California plant community, Burton Mesa Chaparral, found wholly within its borders. Barka Slough, along the San Antonio River, is one of the largest natural freshwater marshes in the bioregion, and another example of this marsh/riparian habitat is maintained at a series of waterfowl management ponds west of Lompoc. About 97% of the base is maintained in essentially a wild state (A. Naydol, Chief, Natural Resources Dept., VAFB, in litt.).

Ornithological Summary

The list of the sensitive birds at this IBA reads like a who's-who list for rare species. The remote headlands around Pt. Arguello support the farthest-south site on the mainland for breeding seabirds (mainly Pelagic Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot, but also a handful Rhinoceros Auklet, fide Carter et al. 1992). The broad, sandy beaches (esp. vic. Purisima Point and Santa Ynez River mouth) offer scarce nesting habitat for Least Tern (up to 100 pr.) and one of the state's largest population of breeding and wintering Snowy Plover (up to 250 pr. have bred, fide A. Naydol). The tidal marsh and mudflats at the mouth of the Santa Ynez River can host hundreds of migrant and winter waterbirds, particularly when the river is allowed to reach the ocean, and supports a colony of saltmarsh-nesting Savannah Sparrows of an undetermined subspecies. Riparian and freshwater marsh birds such as Least Bittern and Yellow-breasted Chats breed in small numbers, and Southwestern Willow Flycatchers maintain a nesting colony at the waterfowl ponds, and could re-colonize the extensive habitat at Barka Slough. The scrub habitats, including the Burton Mesa Chaparral north of the Santa Ynez River, supports one of the largest colonies of the scarce Bell's Sage Sparrow in Central California, with up to 325 breeding pairs (A. Naydol, unpubl. data). Finally, open-country birds occur here in numbers unprecedented elsewhere on the Central Coast, with Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl and Mountain Plover (up to 27 birds in 1997, Ibid) occurring in winter and Grasshopper Sparrow breeding.

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Conservation Issues

Vandenberg has made admirable efforts to maintain suitable habitat for sensitive species on the base, including the removal of cattle from about a third of former grazing land (and from all wetlands and oak woodlands, A. Naydol, in litt.). Habitat known to support federally threatened and endangered species (e.g. Peregrine Falcon, Least Tern, Snowy Plover) is "totally protected", according to A. Naydol (in litt.). The biggest threat is now from exotic plant invasion, especially ice plant, Veldt grass, and European Beach Grass along the coast and tamarisk in riparian areas. Fires burning sensitive habitat (e.g. recently at Barka Slough) remain a constant threat. A local Audubon chapter, La Purisima, has recently cultivated a relationship with the base and is involved with surveying birds and small-scale habitat restoration at the waterfowl ponds. However, as a DoD installation whose primary mission is military preparedness (and not resource conservation), the resources on Vandenberg will probably remain somewhat threatened for the foreseeable future.

Habitat

Bisected by the Santa Ynez River (see above), it extends east to near Lompoc (Harris Grade Rd./ Miguelito Rd.) and supports a staggering diversity of habitats, from coastal Bishop Pine forest to tidal marsh to mature cottonwood-willow riparian woodland. It also protects several plant and animal taxa found nowhere else one earth, including an endemic California plant community, Burton Mesa Chaparral, found wholly within its borders. Barka Slough, along the San Antonio River, is one of the largest natural freshwater marshes in the bioregion, and another example of this marsh/riparian habitat is maintained at a series of ?waterfowl management ponds? west of Lompoc.

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