Vandenberg Air Force Base has imposed a temporary timeout for Surf Beach after a spike in violations of rules aimed at protecting a tiny shorebird.
The closure went into effect Friday and will last until Sept. 1.
From March 1 through Sept. 30, access to Surf Beach, plus Wall and Minuteman beaches, is restricted to protect the western snowy plover during its nesting season.
Since the base is federal property, it must follow more stringent rules under the federal Endangered Species Act, which lists the western snowy plover as threatened.
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The rules, in place for more than 15 years, restrict public access to one-half mile of Surf Beach for the nesting season, with a limit of 50 violations allowed.
As of Friday, violations reached 44 for Surf Beach, which is the closest coastal access for Lompoc Valley residents.
Ten violations are allowed for each the Minuteman and Wall beaches, which have small segments open only to people with regular base access.
Closing Surf Beach now means it can reopen for the Labor Day weekend, base officials said.
“We protect the snowy plover through beach closures, predator management and habitat restoration to offset adverse effects of recreational beach use during the breeding season,” said Samantha Kaisersatt, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist.
During nesting season, all dogs, horses and kites are banned at the base beaches.
Those caught ignoring beach restrictions — ranging from entering a posted area to crushing eggs or chicks — can be fined up to $5,000 in federal court, Air Force officials noted.
Violators of the Endangered Species Act can face fines up to $50,000 in federal court and imprisonment for up to one year.
This isn’t the first time the base has imposed a temporary closure or seen a spike in violations, and officials have closed the beach permanently in past years with months remaining in the nesting season.
In 2016, beach visitors racked up more than half of the seasonal violations total in the first month of nesting season. In 2015, the violation limit hit 50 in early June, leading to the beach being closed for several months.