Planning a spring hike in Southern California? Here are some dangers to avoid – Press Enterprise
Looking to venture outside to enjoy the warm Southern California spring? Experts advise hikers to avoid situations that could lead to falls, educate themselves on man-made hazards like all-terrain vehicles; and be aware of natural hazards, including poisonous plants, rattlesnakes, ticks, black bears, and sick birds and rabbits.
Rattlesnakes top the list of natural hazards – with their poisonous venom, a danger to hikers and the dogs that follow them. After completing their dormant winter periods, the snakes now spend time basking in the sun or hunting for food, said Cathy Stadt, recreation supervisor with the Laguna Niguel Department of Parks and Recreation.
The dangers of the rattlesnake led Stadt to start a rattlesnake avoidance program for dog owners in 2019, she said.
The program includes a 20-minute appointment between dog owners and an instructor during which their dogs are familiarized with the smells and sights of an enclosed rattlesnake, Stadt said. The dog will then receive an electric shock in order to give the dog a negative association with rattlesnakes, she said.
“When an untrained dog and a rattlesnake come together, the snake is almost always the winner,” Stadt said. “You can pay $5,000 to treat your pet (after it’s been bitten) or $65 for a training session.”
Bites can occur at outdoor events and in areas that typically have rats, Stadt said. She recommended that anyone bitten by a rattlesnake call 911 and have someone pick them up, if possible, in an effort to slow the bite victim’s blood flow.
Sick birds and rabbits
Another danger is birds that can suffer from bacterial and parasitic diseases, said Krysta Rogers, senior environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hikers encountering birds that appear sick or injured should contact a wildlife rehabilitation center for advice.
To protect themselves in the wild, hikers should keep their distance from wildlife and practice good hygiene such as hand washing.
“If you are recreating outdoors in areas with large concentrations of wild birds or other wildlife, it may be advisable to wash clothes and disinfect shoes and equipment before heading outside. other areas or interact with domestic birds or pets,” Rogers said.
Hikers should also avoid traversing areas laden with dead rabbits because rabbit populations have been impacted by hemorrhagic disease, said Deanna Clifford, senior wildlife veterinarian with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Bears and cougars
Black bears are common in parts of southern California, said Alex Heeren, a researcher with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, they are generally afraid of humans, and encounters can be managed by making you look as big as possible and making loud noises, according to the agency.
Similar techniques can be applied to mountain lion encounters, according to Angeles National Forest spokeswoman Dana Dierkes.
Keeping food and other “scents” out of the open air is recommended to maintain distance from black bears, Heeren said. Additional tips for preventing and mitigating encounters with black bears are available through the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “Keep Me Wild” program.
Ticks and dangerous plants
Bacteria-laden bites from western blacklegged ticks that can cause Lyme disease are also a regular concern outdoors locally, Heeren said. Tick bites can be avoided by wearing a long-sleeved shirt, tucking your shirt into your pants and your pants into your shoes or socks, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
When traversing the national forests of Cleveland, Angeles or San Bernardino, plant hazards to watch out for include poison oak and poodle bush, said Zachary Behrens, spokesman for the US Forest Service. The poodle-dog bush is a woody shrub with pretty lavender bell-shaped flowers that can cause severe irritation if touched, according to the Forest Service.
The poodle-dog bush can be common in areas recently affected by wildfires as well as heavily traveled areas like the Pacific Crest Trail, Dierkes said.
While there are a wide variety of natural hazards to watch out for when you’re outdoors, some experts have said that the biggest sources of peril in nature tend to be man-made.
Behrens said while stationed in the San Bernardino National Forest, he received a call whenever someone died or was injured.
“It’s never an animal or a plant,” Behrens said. “It’s always vehicles, skiing, climbing, suicide.”
Behrens said vehicles, whether street-legal or off-road, tend to be the biggest risks in the wild. He stressed the importance of off-road vehicle safety, especially in light of new technologies, such as side-by-side off-road vehicles, which are characterized as utility vehicles with bucket or bench seats and a steering wheel.
Heeren said the most common hazards he encounters in his job are usually people tripping, falling or suffering from heatstroke.
The U.S. Forest Service recommends that hikers bring adequate supplies of water along with water purification tablets, cell phone, flashlight, first aid equipment, map, and waterproof matches, among others. Hikers are also encouraged to consider their timing, have a good knowledge of the area, and be sure to check the area’s weather beforehand.