The Passing of a Los Padres Legend

Hello Friends – Some Unfortunate Sad News to Share Today,

The Los Padres lost a legend with the recent passing of our dear friend Rik Christensen. Rik, aka Ranger Rik, has been a regular along the Los Padres backcountry trails for the past four decades with his favorite trails being within the San Rafael Wilderness. Rik’s enthusiasm about the trails was indelible and if you happened upon him while backpacking, you would not forget his welcoming smile, his encouraging word and of course those supernatural white teeth. In this modern world where photos are shared but directions are not, Rik would always go out of his way to share his wisdom, any helpful tips and of course that smile.

Rik was one of the inaugural Volunteer Wilderness Rangers (VWR) and never shied away from a trail maintenance project or an opportunity to survey and explore the backcountry. Rik was instrumental in so many trail surveys, in particular those crucial and difficult post-wildfire journeys into the forest. For many years the Forest Service relied on Rik to be the eyes and ears of the Forest and he took that responsibility very seriously. Rik was the first recipient of the Dave Weaver Wilderness Award, which is presented annually as a lifetime achievement award for Los Padres volunteers. Rik was also at the forefront of the ultralight hiking revolution and a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador who helped Gossamer with many of their tent and gear designs. Some of you might also know Rik through his involvement with the LPFA Used Camping Gear Sale, which he organized and founded. Rik’s passion for backpacking was never more apparent than at the Used Gear Sales where he would spend hours happily sharing his knowledge and helping make sure that each backpack perfectly fit its new owner.

Perhaps Rik’s greatest Los Padres contribution was his efforts to restore South Fork Station along the Sisquoc River. For many decades South Fork had been left in disrepair, ignored as it slowly decayed. Never was South Fork worse than shortly after the 2007 Zaca Fire when it was saved from the flames but left to rot amongst the ash. The mouse invested Station had no shutters, the screens were all ripped, the paint gone, roof cracking and there were no plans to bring it back. South Fork was a goner. That changed when Rik took on the challenge of bringing South Fork back to life. Over the next several years Rik worked with the Forest Service and backpacked the 15 miles to South Fork countless times hauling in supplies and handcrafted materials. Rik used his background in car restoration to carefully restore every detail of the cabin from the color of the paint to the shape of the hinges. If you’ve been to South Fork in the past 10+ years, you know how beautiful that cabin is and that is all thanks to Rik Christensen. Rik embodied the spirit of volunteerism here in the Los Padres and his contributions and spirit will live on forever.

For those interested, there will be a Rik style get together at La Cumbre Peak this Saturday December 10 at 11am followed by a Rik style lunch at Natural Cafe on Hitchcock in Santa Barbara at 1pm.

Rest in peace brother Rik and thank you for all the smiles you shared.

2023 Los Padres Forest Calendar

Back by popular demand, the LPFA has once again published a full color, professionally bound wall calendar full of Los Padres AWESOMENESS! This isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have! Great holiday present for the Los Padres lover on your list or be a little greedy and get one for yourself. The calendars will likely be available at your local REI or you can purchase online and we’ll send them directly to your door.

Thanks to everyone who contributed photos and please have a safe holiday season and terrific 2023….. oh, and find some trail time too!

Amazon Smile Shopping!

Tis the season for lots of shopping. For those few of you who are going to buy more than just the LPFA Calendar and might use Amazon for your shopping, please consider using Amazon Smile and choosing the LPFA as your charity of choice. Any proceeds raised go straight back into supporting the Los Padres Forest. Thank you!

Amazon Smile Supporting LPFA

Volunteer This Week!

The LPFA will be leading a volunteer trail maintenance and sign installation project this Friday – Saturday Dec 9-10 out near Mono Campground. We’ll drive in early Friday and out Saturday afternoon, car-camping at Middle Santa Ynez Campground. To sign up click the link below or feel free to email with any questions: – should be fun, hope you can join us!

LPFA Trail Work GivingTuesday

How many #GivingTuesday emails did you receive today?
We’re setting the over/under at 15. How’d you do?

Hi Everyone – Sorry to inundate you with another #GivingTuesday email but we believe in our goal of restoring the Santa Cruz Trail and we believe that you as trail users should believe in it as well. Of course your contributions go to the LPFA but more importantly they go to support the Los Padres Forest, they go directly to the Santa Cruz Trail and they go to help folks like yourself who are out there using the trails. If you use the trails, this is for you!

If you haven’t volunteered with us yet or don’t know about the LPFA, we can almost guarantee you’ve enjoyed the trails we help maintain. We’ve put together a list of 12 trail accomplishments we’re proud of from 2022. If you’ve not enjoyed these trails listed below, please do so, now is the time before they get overgrown again…. trail work in the Los Padres is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, it never ends!

For 2023 we will be making a big push to continue work on the Santa Cruz Trail and connect the dots between Upper Oso and Santa Cruz Station. We have funding in place for much of this work but not all of it just yet. If you use or have used the Santa Cruz Trail or any of the trails across the Los Padres, please consider supporting our Santa Cruz Trail campaign. Thank you all for your support and see you on the trails…..

– Your Friends at the LPFA

LPFA Accomplishments !

Click here to watch a YouTube of our 2021 #GivingTuesday accomplishments in the Sespe.
Click here to donate for #GivingTuesday 2022 on the Santa Cruz Trail.

Have a great day everyone!


Sespe Working Vacation & Exciting Santa Cruz Trail News!

Sespe, Red Reef & the Topatopa’s – shining!


While there is much to be thankful for here in the Los Padres, we are most thankful for the 32 volunteers who helped out last week on our Sespe Working Vacation based at Willett Camp. The LPFA has hosted dozens of Working Vacations over the years but they just keep getting better, more efficient and more fun. We had a great time out there, the Sespe in fall is hard to beat and we watched the colors get better and better with each passing day. We’ll share the whole story later but for now some quick bullet points of what we accomplished:

Otis, Annie, Tommy, Honey, Floyd & Jessabelle – could not have done it without you!
  • Our awesome volunteers cleared and restored 4 miles of the Sespe River Trail, mainly between Willett and Coltrell Camps.
  • We hauled out, thanks to the mules, over a dozen trash bags filled with garbage left along the trail and at Willett Camp. Willett is clean now, please help keep it that way!
  • We repaired 4 disastrous fire rings around Willett while creating defensible space for when the fire ban is lifted.
  • Repaired and cleaned most of the out-buildings at Willett Camp. Much more love is needed!
  • Cut out 13 downed trees which were blocking both the Sespe River and Red Reef Trails.
  • Somehow kept everyone well fed and energized despite the freezing conditions and daily long hikes to the work sites.
  • Engaged with countless dozens of backpackers who were out enjoying the Sespe and its fall colors over the past week!
They don’t call him the Shermanator for nothing…..

We want to also thank Southern California Edison, who provided a grant to complete some of this work and a private anonymous donor (you know who you are THANKS!) who paid for all the food and drinks for our hungry and thirsty volunteers.

We are working on scheduling next years Spring Working Vacations and as of right now will be working on the Alder Creek Trail within the Sespe Wilderness and hosting another Working Vacation at South Fork Station in the San Rafael Wilderness. Stay tuned for updates and we hope you can join us in 2023 and beyond……

You likely know that #GivingTuesday is this coming Tuesday November 29. Last year the LPFA raised funds to fix a sketchy section of the Condor Trail within the Sespe Wilderness called the Alder Creek Slide. This year we will be focusing our #GivingTuesday efforts to continue our trail restoration along the Santa Cruz Trail within Santa Barbara County. Thank you everyone who helped support our efforts this past year and we hope you choose to support this #GivingTuesday as well. 

Sespe Creek in Full Bloom

Sespe, Sierra Madre and more! Come volunteer with us…

Happy Alisalversary! Last week marked the one year anniversary of the Alisal Fire. The LPFA was up in the burn area documenting some of the regrowth and trail work that has occurred over the past 12 months.

Hello Friends, 

You may know that the Los Padres is a very large and diverse forest covering approximately 1.75 million acres of the central California coast from Big Sur to the Los Angeles County line and from sea level to almost 9,000 ft. Yet, right now might be the most diverse we’ve ever seen the Los Padres. The unusual pattern of localized bands of rain that we received in September have left the Los Padres looking more diverse than ever. Some portions of the forest were pounded with inches of rain while just a few miles away might not have received more than a few sprinkles. The end result has the forest looking more like a green and brown zebra with alternating stripes of bright green and dead brown. Rain truly is the giver of life in these parts and while some areas are alive and well, others are still waiting their turn for some much needed rain. That being said, the temps are cooling and we’re seeing a lot more activity on and answering far more emails about trail conditions and water reports. As the fall season kicks on and more and more of us return to our cooler trails, please be sure to check out HikeLosPadres and report back when you get back so we can share water reports for others. It’s a great time of year to explore the Los Padres, remember to be prepared ahead of time and hope you get some trail time soon…… 




Do you love the Los Padres forest or love to volunteer? If so, we have some fun upcoming volunteer projects that might be right up your alley….

Willett Camp on the Sespe, basecamp for the upcoming November LPFA Working Vacation


November 12-20

The LPFA will be hosting another terrific Working Vacation this November along the Sespe River Trail based at Willett Camp. If you’ve been on a Working Vacation, you know how much fun they are. It’s always great giving back to the trails we love and meeting new friends in the process. We’ll be on the Sespe for 10 days in November and would love your help for any number of days you can contribute. All food, tools and instructions are provided by the LPFA, we just ask that you can backpack 10 miles down the Sespe and help with a day or more of trail work. Please email us to sign up or with any questions: VOLUNTEER@LPFOREST.ORG – hope to see you out there!


October 29-30

Any trail runners out there? The LPFA is partnering with Runners For Public Lands on the last weekend of October to help run a stash of water out the Sweetwater Trail along the Sierra Madre Mountains. Long story short, the LPFA Trail Crew has been working on the Sweetwater Trail and are at a point now where we can’t continue the work without a large amount of water being stashed along the trail. That’s where the runners come in. We’ll be looking for runners interested in helping run the water out to the stash location so the Trail Crew can continue on restoring the trail down to the Sisquoc. We’ll be spending a weekend out there with the water run, a fun run, some special site visits and perhaps a Halloween themed game or two. For more information please email: VOLUNTEER@LPFOREST.ORG thanks!


October 22, 1pm

The LPFA will once again be hosting a Used Camping Gear Sale this coming Saturday at 1pm at the VWR Cabin (34.545144, -119.792281) off Paradise Road. If you are looking for any new camping or backpacking gear, this is the place. We’ll have a large assortment of gear including packs and tents donated by Gossamer Gear. All proceeds go to the LPFA Trail Care fund and directly back into maintaining the trails you love. Let us know if you have any questions: INFO@LPFOREST.ORG


In addition to the project specific volunteer opportunities listed above, the LPFA is always looking for volunteers interested in helping with a wide variety of forest projects. These efforts include road patrol, building maintenance, gate repairs, graffiti removal, web design, helping at Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center, HikeLosPadres support and of course we’re always interested in helping to support volunteer efforts on specific trails or other forest related projects. If you’ve got an idea that helps the forest, let us know and we’d love to help. VOLUNTEER@LPFOREST.ORG with questions or to throw your name or idea in the hat. THANK YOU!

Not a Bad Commute – Alamo Mountain Sunrise – the LPFA Trail Crew has been hard at work restoring some moto trails on Alamo…. photo CHorner


Oct 8 – Nov 6: D-13 General Hunting Season
Oct 22: LPFA Party, Paradise Road
Oct 22: LPFA Used Camping Gear Sale
Oct 29-30: Sierra Madre Water Run, RPL, LPFA
Nov 4-6: Big Sur Trail Work, VWA
Nov 6: Agua Blanca Trail Work, LPFA ORD
Nov 12-20: Sespe River Trail, Willett Working Vacation, LPFA
Nov 18-20: Carrizo Trail, VWR
Feb 4 2023: Volunteer Wilderness Ranger Training
May 2023: Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center 20th Anniversary Celebration!

LPFA Hiring & Sespe Working Vacation

Summer Trail Crew Members Jack and Tanner, Working the Big Sur Trail, photo Sabrina Claros

Hello Friends,

We hope this email finds you doing well and perhaps with a little mud on your boots? September is supposed to be one of our drier months but fortunately we’ve had some exciting weather sweep across the Los Padres over the past two weeks. It started with the remnants of Hurricane Kay, which dropped measurable precipitation (1/4 – 1″) across most of the Southern Los Padres. That was followed up this week by an early season (or late season?) low-pressure system from Alaska which dumped some pretty substantial rain across the Northern and Central Los Padres. Some of the Big Sur Mountains received nearly 4 inches of rain from this storm – no joke! There remains a possibility for more rain early this week as the system moves through followed by more “normal” weather as the week unfolds. The early rain is certainly a welcome sight and might have been enough to trigger the grass to start growing. Sure would be nice to have a long green season this year. We hope you find some trail time soon and keep us posted via email or HikeLosPadres if you find any downed trees or slides blocking the trails.


LPFA TRAIL CREW – We’re Hiring!

Fall is coming up fast and we’re looking for a few brave souls to join our paid Trail Crew for the season. You must like long walks in the forest, hard physical work, camping, being out in nature A LOT and the satisfying feeling of restoring and building trails. If that’s you, let us know. Hope to hear from you soon!
Apply Here!

Cool Sespe Nights & Warm Sespe Days


November  12-20, 2022

We’ve got some really exciting news to share: the LPFA will be hosting our fall 2022 volunteer Working Vacation in November along the Sespe River Trail in the Ventura Backcountry. Our base-camp for the 10-day Working Vacation will be at Willett Camp and we’ll be working primarily on restoring the Sespe River Trail from Willett down towards Sespe Hot Springs. As usual, all food will be provided compliments of the LPFA and we’ll have a great group of packers to help bring in tools, food, beverages and more. While we’d love to have you for the entire 10 days, you are more than welcome to come in for part of the trip as your schedule allows. If you are interested in signing up or have any questions, please sign up here or email us directly. Willett is a special place, should be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Hope you can join us……
Sign up for Sespe!

Recent LPFA Trail Crew work on the Sisquoc Trail, the backcountry is calling, photo JMorris


• Earlier this summer the Forest Service shared plans for a very large forest-wide fire and fuels management program called the Ecological Restoration Project or ERP. The Forest Service is currently seeking comments about the program and have extended the comment period through September 27. Please take some time and read through the proposal, watch the recorded webinars, talk to your friends/family, educate yourself and provide your comments to the Forest Service. As with most very large proposals, ERP is likely not all bad and likely not all good. The purpose of the comment period is to let the FS know what you like and don’t like about the ERP. We have until the 27th, please use your voice!

• National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is this coming Saturday. If you don’t have plans, come on out and join us on the San Ysidro Trail for a day of trail work. Hope to see you out there!

• The second biggest hunting zone in the Los Padres is D-13, which covers most of the terrain north of Sespe Creek and east of Hwy 33in Ventura County including Pine Mtn and Mt Pinos. D-13 general deer hunting season runs from 10/8 – 11/6. You can find out more about regulations and zone specific information here.

• LPFA is hosting another Used Camping Gear Sale on October 29! If you have any used gear you would like to donate to the event, now is your chance! Shoot us an email and we will have you drop off your gear at a nearby location. 

• Many of us are now well aware of the hiker who went missing on Trespass Trail in Gaviota. Unfortunately, our community has seen several heat-related incidents and deaths this summer season. Now, it is our collective responsibility to share preventative information and understand the warning signs. You will likely see these flyers posted at trailheads in Montecito: “Be prepared, know the signs, and act fast.” Please take a look and familiarize yourself with this information, both for yourself, and your fellow hikers. Carry extra water/snacks and check in with others out on the trail. Be safe everyone.

• Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center is looking for volunteers! This is a perfect opportunity for those forest enthusiasts in the Ojai area to give back to the Los Padres. “Duties may include meeting and greeting visitors, answering questions about the forest, operating the center store, taking phone calls and even emceeing Saturday morning educational programs.” Let us know if you are interested!

Los Padres Hunting Season & ERP

Hello Friends, 

Lots going on across the Los Padres at the moment! We’ll cover much of that down below in Forest 411 but first lets talk about deer hunting season. The busiest and geographically largest deer season in the Los Padres is A-Zone South which opens this weekend Saturday August 13 and lasts through September 25. A-Zone covers most of the Los Padres basically from the Sespe up through Big Sur and while A-Zone has been open for archery over the past month or so, it’s this weekend that it opens for general rifle season. If you’ve not been out for opening A-Zone weekend, it’s certainly the busiest weekend of the year here in the Los Padres and you should expect to see hunters camping at most of the trailheads, turnouts and campgrounds that provide access into the forest. If you have plans to hike, backpack, ride or visit the forest this weekend, be aware that it might be very busy within A-Zone and if you’re not a hunter then you might want to rethink your plans and head elsewhere. If you are heading into A-Zone, be sure to wear brighter colors than you might normally wear and be courteous of the other forest-users. If you’re starting up a trail and come across some hunters, it’s always a good idea to ask where they are going and let them know where you are going so as to prevent any surprises further up the trail. Most of the hunters are very knowledgeable about the Los Padres and have been enjoying the forest for generations. Expect a busy weekend throughout A-Zone, be respectful, remember the current fire restrictions and of course everyone be safe out there.

Ecological Restoration Project (ERP)

The big news across the Los Padres has been the introduction of a proposed forest-wide fuels management project called the Ecological Restoration Project or ERP. At the moment ERP is within the scoping phase of the proposal and the Forest Service is currently inviting and encouraging the public to comment and share thoughts on the project. Information about ERP is available at the project page here as well as more information hereherehere and here. There is a lot of information flying around about ERP and we strongly encourage you to watch the FS webinar from earlier this week and attend an upcoming webinar that ForestWatch is leading. There are a couple takeaways you should keep in mind as you educate yourself on this project: 

  • There are two main sides to the fuels management debate (manage vs leave alone) and both sides believe they are doing what is best to protect the long-term health of the forest. 
  • The proposed ERP treatment acreage is staggeringly large but understand that the FS is looking to approve potential future treatment within that acreage. There are no plans to immediately treat that entire area, it would take decades to complete. The FS is essentially requesting the right to treat those areas as they see fit and when needed. 

Please do your research, educate yourself, talk it up, ask questions and be sure to share your opinion with the Forest Service.

The LPFA Ojai Chapter Adopt-A-Highway Volunteers unfortunately hit the jackpot during our July cleanup of Highway 33.


• The LPFA Trail Crew and Trail Volunteers just wrapped up an incredible July where we maintained over 6 miles of Los Padres trails despite the oppressive heat. This was thanks in large part to grants we received from the National Forest Foundation, NFWF and donations from folks like you. We’re not sure we can replicate that success in August but we’re going to try. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HELPED! 

• Late last month the Santa Barbara Ranger District issued an order to close the Upper Santa Ynez Recreation Area to all motorized vehicles. While the area has been closed to vehicles since 2016, this is the first formal closure the FS has issued. In addition to closing the area to vehicles, the closure also includes closing both Mono and Rock (Lower Caliente) Campgrounds due to nearby hazard trees and structures. The FS is hoping to reopen the area in FY 2023. Stay tuned….. 

• In response to repeated illegal camping along Highway 1 through Big Sur, Monterey County passed a new ordinance which has increased fines for illegal camping to $1,000. This ordinance is effective along Highway 1 between the Carmel River and the SLO County Line. 

• In case you’ve missed any of the recent LPFA talks or online programs, they are all posted and available to watch on our YouTube Channel. Check em out and don’t forget The Evil Root Ball Empire while you’re there….. 

• Earlier this summer the Forest Service received the go-ahead from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to begin fuels management efforts on two Mt Pinos RD forest health projects. No time table has been set for when the actual work will begin. 

• Did you hear the one about the four motorcycle riders who got lost and used InReach to have SAR deliver them food, water and maps? At the time they were illegally motoring in the San Rafael Wilderness and across the Sisquoc Wild & Scenic River? If only there was a way to track down their contact information…… 

• The Angeles NF is currently requesting comments to the River Values Assessment for the Piru Creek Wild & Scenic River. Piru Creek is located on the border of the Angeles and Los Padres. Be sure to check out the assessment and use your voice to comment

• For those of you in Ventura County or in case you’re looking for a way to avoid A-Zone, the Ventura Monthly shared an article about the Thomas Fire recovery and some summertime trails in the area worth exploring. Have at it…. 

• Last but certainly not least, the NY Times published a great article about ancient trees in the Los Padres and the study of historic droughts as they relate to tree rings. Not only is the content within this article super interesting, but the layout and artwork is fantastic. A+
AMAZING – Doesn’t quite look the same does it? photo LPNF Archives


A few upcoming dates, events, projects, presentations or things you might want to know. If you have any forest-related events to add to this list, let us know and we’re more than happy to pass along!  

Aug 13: SW Herpetologist Presentation, Wheeler Gorge VC, 10am
Aug 13 – Sep 25: A-Zone South General Hunting Season
Aug 17: Highway 33 Adopt-A-Highway, LPFA
Aug 18: Staying Safe on Trails w/ SBSAR, SB Library Talk
Aug 20: Saving the Condors Presentation, Wheeler Gorge VC, 10am
Aug 30: LPFA Trail Work Tuesday, TBD
Sep 2-5: Pine Ridge Trail Work, VWA
Sep 2-4: Big Sur Trail, VWA
Sep 13: LPFA Trail Work Tuesday, TBD
Sep 15: Tales of SB Backcountry w/ JWapotich, SB Library Talk
Sep 24: National Public Lands Day TBD, LPFA
Sep 30: Carrizo Trail Work, VWA
Oct 22: LPFA Party, Paradise Road
Oct 29: LPFA Used Camping Gear Sale
Oct 13-16: De Angulo Trail Work, VWA
November 2022: LPFA Working Vacation TBD, LPFA
Feb 4 2023: Volunteer Wilderness Ranger Training


Hello Friends, 

We hope you are having a great summer and still finding some cooler trail time here in the hot Los Padres! LPFA recently asked a group of hikers to list things that scared them here in the Los Padres. Their list included fears such as getting lost, poison oak, ticks, gravity, water (too much and not enough), other people and wild animals. While not everyone listed the same responses, there was a clear winner when it came to the one thing that most people are scared of here in the Los Padres…… RATTLESNAKES! 

The fear of snakes, known as ophidiophobia, is certainly not unique to the Los Padres and is actually one of the more common human fears known across the world. Rattlesnake encounters can be very scary; and for good reason as their bites can be deadly. We should all have a little fear and a lot of respect for our Los Padres rattlers. For those of us who regularly venture into the forest, rattlesnake sightings are a fairly common occurrence and should be expected just about anywhere in the Los Padres during the snake season of April – October. 

While encounters are common, there remain a lot of myths and information about rattlesnakes that most people might now know. With that in mind, the LPFA recently hosted three online events designed to help educate forest-users about our local rattlesnake population. Hopefully, these videos will help you learn a little more about how to avoid rattlesnake encounters and what to do in case a bite does occur. Enjoy the videos and stay safe everyone…….   

Sincerely, The LPFA Team

Our first video is an online webinar filmed about a year ago with Dr. Emily Taylor from Central Coast Snake Services. This video focuses on learning about rattlesnakes and  busting myths.

The second video was filmed in June 2022 and is an interview with a friend of the LPFA who was bit by a rattlesnake while exploring off-trail deep within the Sespe Wilderness.

And our final video is once again with Dr. Emily Taylor as she shares how to keep your dog safe while exploring in snake country.

Sespe Rattlesnake Bite

Click here for YouTube video

Local Los Padres backpacker Dan Susman was bitten by a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in May 2022 while off-trail deep in the Sespe Wilderness. Dan is a friend of the LPFA and we were fortunate to catch up with him in June 2022 to hear and record his story of the bite, the rescue and the recovery from his rattlesnake bite.

We hope you enjoy the video but more importantly we hope you learn a few things about how to prevent rattlesnake bites, how to aid in getting help after a bite and what the recovery process might look like.

As a thanks to Dan for sharing his story and to hopefully get him back out on the trails as soon as possible, we’d like to buy him a pair of Turtleskin SnakeArmor Rattlesnake Gaiters. If you’d like to contribute towards the gaiters, please click the link below. Thank you……

Rattlesnake Gaiter Fund

It’s Canine Companion Week!

Written by Dr. Emily Taylor of Central Coast Snake Services

Rattlesnake Avoidance Training and Exclusion Fencing

It’s Canine Companion Week! We have already advocated leashes on walks. Now let’s explore additional ways to protect your dogs: rattlesnake avoidance training and rattlesnake exclusion fencing.

Rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs is a worthwhile investment in protecting dogs from snakebite. Dogs tend to sniff wiggly things on the ground, which can earn them a bite to the snout. Bites to the face can be painful and even deadly (tomorrow we will discuss how to treat bites), so preventing them is paramount.

Techniques include either aversion training by pairing a rattlesnake with an unpleasant buzz from an e-Collar, or positive reinforcement training to teach dogs to avoid rattlesnakes. While I have heard about the latter, I have not seen it in action so will restrict my comments to the former.

Experienced dog trainers use avoidance training to teach your dog to fear the sight, smell, and sound of rattlesnakes. With avoidance training, the stimulus is a safely muzzled rattlesnake and an e-Collar that makes the dog associate the snake with the unpleasant buzz to its neck, essentially thinking it was bitten by the snake. The effect is immediate and dramatic. The dogs want nothing to do with the snakes, and this effect can last long after the training.

Since she took her training a year ago, my dog Pax has backed away from one rattlesnake and one shed skin, both while leashed on hikes. Trainers recommend that your dog is trained once per year for 2-3 years or until they remember from the year prior.

It is worth noting that the training is not foolproof. It only works insofar as the dog is trainable, and it doesn’t protect a dog from stepping on a rattlesnake as it runs through tall grass.

Follow us to learn when rattlesnake avoidance training will be available in our area. We will be sure to let you know!

Leashing and training your dog to avoid rattlesnakes will go a long way toward protecting most dogs, which typically encounter rattlesnakes on hikes and other adventures. But what about those of you who live in snake country, where rattlesnakes might regularly visit your yards?

Drought may be causing rattlesnakes to spend more time in yards as they seek water from irrigation, fountains, pools, birdbaths, and other sources. Also, climate change is predicted to actually be GOOD for rattlesnakes in many areas of California. So, rattlesnakes are here to stay, and we must learn to safely coexist with them.

Below is a link to an article I wrote on how to make your yard UN-friendly to snakes. This might discourage them from sticking around, but snakes can still come and go. Other remedies like powders sold at hardware stores do not work at all. The only way to completely prevent rattlesnakes from getting into a yard is with rattlesnake exclusion fencing. This involves reinforcing your existing fence with ¼-inch hardware cloth that is sunk into the dirt and extends at least 30 inches tall. It is particularly challenging to rattlesnake-proof gates, so I always recommend that you hire a professional company to install rattlesnake exclusion fencing. Feel free to contact me to ask for assistance with finding a company in your area or for tips if you decide to DIY it.

Tomorrow is the last day of Canine Companion week, and we will discuss first aid and treatment of dogs that have been bitten by snakes. Don’t forget to register for my free online presentation with Los Padres Forest Association this Thurs at 6pmPST: you must pre-register and it is almost full.…/index.html


K9 Natural Solutions Rattlesnake Avoidance Training:

How to make your yard UN-friendly to snakes:…/how-to-make-your-yard-snake…

Movie about rattlesnake fencing from AZ-based Rattlesnake Solutions:

Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs?

It’s Canine Companion Week! This post discusses whether or not you should get the “rattlesnake vaccine” for your dog.

Vaccines to help protect your dog against viral and other pathogens that cause disease like rabies and distemper are important parts of your regular visits to your vet. But what about “vaccines” that allegedly protect your dog not from pathogens but from other threats like snake venom? Do they work, and should you get the vaccine for your dog?

My answer is no. This is based on three things: (1) data from studies of the vaccine’s efficacy, (2) recommendations from veterinarians who specialize in snakebite treatment, and (3) my understanding as a scientist of how the immune system works.

(1) There is no evidence that the rattlesnake vaccine works: The rattlesnake “vaccine” has a conditional approval from the USDA, which means it simply must be shown to be safe and does not need to have been shown to work. Indeed, it has not been shown to provide any protection. Study #1 found no difference in outcome in snakebitten dogs who had the vaccine and those that did not. Study #2 showed that mice vaccinated with the drug had some protection against venom from Western Diamond-backed rattlesnakes (the species that was used to make the vaccine), but little protection against venoms from Northern and Southern Pacific rattlesnakes (the ones that most commonly bite dogs in California). Of course, dogs are not mice, but this is the closest thing to an experimental study that can be done because it is not considered ethical to perform such studies on dogs. What about what your vet says? I have heard some veterinarians say that they believe that the vaccine may afford some protection against snakebite. However, this can result from confirmation bias (a dog has the vaccine, survives a bite, and so the owner and vet attribute its survival to having had the vaccine).

(2) The specialist veterinarians at National Snakebite Support do not recommend the vaccine for the reasons I have described above. Join this Facebook group to learn about snakebite treatment from specialists.

(3) How vaccines work, and why they won’t likely work against snakebite: The idea behind a vaccine is that exposing your dog to bits of the foreign protein ahead of time primes their immune system so that their body initiates immune response against the proteins when later exposed. This makes sense for viruses and other pathogens, where vaccines protect against infection and save thousands of canine lives annually. When a virus invades the body, the vaccine-primed immune system can be activated and can attack that virus before it has a chance to replicate and cause a major infection. But this doesn’t make sense for venom. When a snake bites a dog, a vast quantity of foreign proteins is injected into the bloodstream all at once, and it is logically not possible that the immune system would be able to mount a response against this quantity of foreign protein. The vaccine is marketed with the notion that vaccination could buy your dog time when traveling to the veterinarian for lifesaving antivenom (the vaccine is NOT advertised as a substitute for antivenom!). But even that doesn’t make sense. If anything, it is more likely that “vaccinating” a dog against snake venoms could induce a dangerous sensitivity to venom proteins in dogs. Indeed, one study (Study #3, links at the end) has shown that several dogs who had received the rattlesnake vaccine died from anaphylactic shock when they were bitten by rattlesnakes because of this hypersensitivity.

In summary, my data-driven understanding as a scientist along with the recommendations of veterinarians specializing in treatment of snakebite in dogs have led me to recommend that you do not have your dog vaccinated against snakebite. The best ways to protect your dog involve prevention of snakebite in the first place, via the underrated and magical tool known as the leash (see yesterday’s post) and potentially via rattlesnake avoidance training and rattlesnake exclusion fencing, the subjects of tomorrow’s post. Until then, leash up and enjoy the trail with your pooch!


Study #1: Witsil et al. 272 cases of rattlesnake envenomation in dogs: Demographics and treatment including safety of F(ab′)2 antivenom use in 236 patients. ToxiconVolume 105, October 2015, Pages 19-26.

Study #2: Cates et al. Comparison of the protective effect of a commercially available western diamondback rattlesnake toxoid vaccine for dogs against envenomation of mice with western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), and southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) venom. American Journal of Veterinary Research Volume 76, March 2015, Pages 272-279.

Study #3: Petras et al. Suspected anaphylaxis and lack of clinical protection associated with envenomation in two dogs previously vaccinated with Crotalus atrox toxoid. ToxiconVolume 142, February 2018, Pages 30-33.

Each morning of this Canine Companion Week I will post advice about “Keeping your dog safe in snake country,” with upcoming topics including the rattlesnake vaccine, rattlesnake avoidance training, snakebite first aid, and keeping your dog safe in your yard. This will culminate in a free online presentation sponsored by the Los Padres Forest Association on Thurs, June 29 at 6pmPST (registration here:…/index.html)

The Leash

Enjoy this post on “Hiking and Adventuring with your Dog.” Read to the end to find out how to score this cute doggie bandana and other swag.

In California, we are lucky to enjoy an extensive network of public trails like those in the Los Padres National Forest that we are free to explore with our canine companions. My dog Pax and I log about 4 miles per day walking or hiking. What are the best ways to keep your dog safe while hiking in our beautiful public lands?

Most dog owners know that hiking in California is fairly safe for people and pooches alike. There are indeed threats like ticks, seeds called “foxtails” can burrow their way into a dog’s skin requiring painful and costly surgery, some dogs might run through poison oak and transfer its oils onto the hands that pet them, and owners of small dogs need to be aware of the threat of coyotes and other large predators. But rattlesnakes are considered to be a major threat by many because they can deliver a dangerous defensive bite when confronted by a dog. Rattlesnakes do not want to bite dogs, but they will do so if they feel their lives are in danger.

What happens when your dog encounters a snake on a hike? The first instinct of many dogs is to stop and sniff the snake. To a rattlesnake, this appears to be a large predator going in for the kill, so they will often strike to defend themselves. This is why many snakebites to dogs occur on the face. This results in painful and dangerous swelling and tissue damage that may be fatal if not treated by a veterinarian. The idea of our beloved pooches being envenomated by a rattlesnake is scary. However, I have great news for you. Snakebite on hikes is mostly preventable with one simple tool that most of us already carry with us.


Leashes are truly wonderful things. They keep your dog by your side where you can enjoy the trail together. Most rattlesnakes, ticks, and other denizens that you may not want to encounter will be found in the shrubs, grasses, or rocks along a trail rather than on the trail itself. Keeping your dog on leash has many other benefits. It protects wildlife like squirrels, rabbits, and birds from your dog. When you encounter other hikers with dogs on the trail, leashes allow you to control your dogs to prevent negative canine social encounters. In short, leashing your dog by your side is the single best way to be a responsible dog owner because leashing protects your dog, other dogs and their owners, and wildlife.

Each morning of this Canine Companion Week I will post advice about “Keeping your dog safe in snake country,” with upcoming topics including the rattlesnake vaccine, rattlesnake avoidance training, snakebite first aid, and keeping your dog safe in your yard. This will culminate in a free online presentation sponsored by the Los Padres Forest Association on Thurs, June 29 at 6pmPST (registration link below- spaces are limited, so sign up now!).There is some awesome swag available with a small donation. You can pick up a super cute “Buzz the Buzztail” bandana for your dog for $15 when you register for the talk at the link above (supplies super limited), or you can help with CCSS’s annual summer fundraiser by purchasing a “Snake Safe Space” sticker or fence sign.Links and info:Register for Thursday’s online presentation and purchase bandana here:…/index.html

Purchase Snake Safe Space stickers here:…/SnakeSafeSpa…

Purchase Snake Safe Space: We Don’t Kill Snakes fence sign here:…/Snake_Safe…

Make a donation to Los Padres Forest Association here:

Make a donation to support Central Coast Snake Services here:


Missing this Mission Pine View – LPFA volunteers spent the long holiday weekend working the Mission Pine Trail – It’s now 100% passable and in good shape from McKinley to Mission Pine Basin and beyond…..

Hello Friends – we hope this email finds you tired from a long Memorial Day weekend on the trails……The big news across the Los Padres Forest this week is the introduction of our first seasonal fire restrictions. BE SURE TO READ THE ORDER for specifics but basically all campfires are now banned within the LP outside of Designated Campfire Use Sites. This level of restrictions should have the greatest impact on backcountry visitors who will now have to plan on cooking with stoves and having some extra time to enjoy the stars. While we should be pretty used to camping without a fire by now and the evenings aren’t too cold anymore, here are a few links to sift through in case you are looking for suggestions or alternatives to the traditional campfire. We’d love to see any photos you might have of ways you enjoy camping without campfires. You can email us or tag us on any of the usual social media channels. Be safe everyone….


The LPFA will be participating once again as part of National Trails Day by hosting two trail volunteer projects and one forest support weekend here in the Los Padres, please email us for more information:

The Sunset Valley Trail is a somewhat forgotten and certainly overgrown trail along the northern slope of Figueroa Mountain that follows Sunset Valley Road starting at Fish Creek Saddle and connecting again with the road either at the Munch Canyon TH or further down at Davy Brown Campground. We’ll be out this Saturday working on restoring the Sunset Valley Trail. Once Sunset Valley Trail is reopened, it will be a terrific connector trail for folks hiking White Rock and Munch and it will also open up a super fun trail for beginner mountain bikers where you can ride up the road or single track and gradually descend through the oaks along Sunset Valley – thumbs up! Looking forward to seeing this trail restored and revitalized – come out and help!

We’re extending National Trails Day into National Trails Days and will be hosting a trail volunteer project on Tuesday June 7 along the Potrero John Trail in the Sespe Wilderness. We’ve worked on this trail quite a bit over the years but just received a report of brushy conditions, a few downed trees and the need for some TLC along the trail. Game on! Potrero John can be a very friendly short backpacking trip up to the camp or make for a fun day-hike up into the wilderness to explore the canyon’s attractions. If you haven’t been, it’s worth a spot on your todo list and what better way to explore Potrero John than volunteering with us as part of NTDays.

While not exactly part of National Trails Day, we’ll be hosting a weekend forest support volunteer project next weekend June 11-12 out in the Upper Santa Ynez Recreation area working between Mono and Pendola. We’ll be meeting at Romero Saddle on June 11 at 8am and then driving out to Middle Santa Ynez Campground. From there we’ll meet with FS staff and spend the weekend helping clear campgrounds, maintain facilities, install signs and work on the Cold Spring Trail. As always, for more information or to sign up, please email

It’s not all trail work, LPFA volunteers cleaning graffiti at Lizards Mouth, May 2022