Sections of three Lompoc Valley beaches were partially closed off to visitors Thursday — as they are on March 1 every year — by Vandenberg Air Force Base in what officials say is a continuing attempt to protect the Western snowy plover.
The restrictions have been enacted at sections of Surf Beach, which is open to the public, as well as Wall and Minuteman beaches, which only are accessible by entering VAFB. The closures are set to remain in effect through Sept. 30, at the latest.
The Western snowy plover is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The closures, according to base officials, are meant to protect the birds, as well as their nesting habitats.
"We protect the snowy plover by closing specific areas of the beaches, managing predators and restoring plover habitat to compensate for the effects of recreational beach use during the breeding season," said Samantha Kaisersatt, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist. "Beach closures also include a prohibition on dogs, horses and kites."
Violations are monitored by VAFB Civil Engineering personnel.
If violations exceed 50 for Surf Beach, 10 for Wall Beach or 10 for Minuteman Beach, that respective beach will be closed entirely for the remainder of the nesting season, which lasts through Sept. 30.
Entry into any posted closed area counts as a violation, officials said.
Violators of beach restrictions can be fined up to $5,000 in federal court.
Violations of the Endangered Species Act, like crushing eggs or chicks, can lead to fines of up to $50,000 in federal court and imprisonment for up to one year.
During plover season, the general public still can access portions of Surf Beach at the west end of Ocean Avenue, which is also Highway 246, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Wall and Minuteman beaches will continue to be open to visitors from sunrise to sunset.
"To ensure continued access to these beaches, read and follow the rules on the posted signage to avoid violations and beach closure," read a portion of a release sent by VAFB public affairs.