Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes remains open with restrictions to protect rare birds

Michael Brady with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drives through the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Wildlife Refuge during a tour with the Tribune.
Michael Brady with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drives through the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Wildlife Refuge during a tour with the Tribune. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge will remain open for the next 15 years. However, access will be limited during half the year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently approved the refuge’s updated conservation plan, which calls for the area to remain open. One option under consideration was to close the refuge as a cost-saving measure.

The agency spends $133,500 annually to manage the refuge. Since 2010, the agency has lost 20 percent of that funding.

From March 1 to Sept. 31, visitors will be able to walk along the beach portion of the refuge but will not be able to hike inland. This is to protect western snowy plovers and California least terns, two rare shorebird species that nest between the dunes and the high tide mark, refuge manager Michael Brady said.

During that period, visitors will be able to access the interior of the refuge only via guided tours offered by groups such as the Dunes Center in Guadalupe. Visitors will be able to individually access the entire refuge during the rest of the year.

The agency had hoped to construct a trail system that could be modified to avoid nesting birds and would allow visitors access from the beach during nesting season.

“However, the trail system did not go through due mostly to budgetary reasons and staff size,” Brady said.

With a few exceptions, the agency will continue current management activities, which are intended to conserve fish, wildlife and plants as well as maximize public access.

The updated management plan also calls for several new predator management programs. Programs will be developed to remove and kill feral pigs, which have invaded much of the refuge, as well as coyotes and raccoons that target nesting terns and plovers.

“Feral swine cause extensive damage to a number of endangered plants in the refuge,” Brady explained.

The 2,553-acre refuge is located between Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area to the north and the Guadalupe oil field to the south. It is part of an 18-mile stretch of remote coastal dunes running from Point Sal to Pismo Beach.

The refuge is managed to protect more than 120 species of rare plants and animals. It is home to one of the highest concentrations of rare and endangered species in the county.

It is also one of the newer refuges in the national system. It was formed in 2000 when The Nature Conservancy donated the land to the federal government. It extends 1.8 miles along the beach and 3 miles inland.

The refuge is accessed by parking at Oso Flaco Lake, hiking to the beach and then 1 mile south along the beach. Docent-led hikes access the refuge from a service road off Oso Flaco Lake Road.