The varied habitats and topography of Los Padres provide permanent or transitory refuge for some 468 species of fish and wildlife making it one of the more diverse National Forests in California.
Currently there are five big game species in or immediately, adjacent to Los Padres: mule deer, black bear, wild boar, Pronghorn Antelope and Tule Elk.
Mule deer, represented by two subspecies, the Columbian black-tailed deer and the California mule deer, constitute the vast majority of the big game. The deer population is divided among seven deer herds. The black-tailed deer are a more coastal specie. The remaining deer in the San Rafael, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Mt. Pinos herds are comprised primarily of California mule deer.
Black bear populations have maintained or increased their numbers over the past few decades although very little information is available concerning the central coast area. Areas of high bear concentration include the Santa Cruz and upper Santa Ynez drainage on, the Santa Barbara District, the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Aqua Blanca and Upper Piru areas of the Ojai District and Sisquoc River area of the Santa Lucia District.
The European wild pig is an introduced species which has been present on the Monterey District since 1927. The original European stock was released in the Carmel Valley and has dispersed and intermixed with feral pigs down the coast range into San Luis Obispo County. The major concern with the wild-feral pigs is their destructive nature in sensitive wetland and riparian habitats and their direct competition with wildlife, especially deer, for food and cover in the fall. The feral pig populations have also appeared on the Santa Barbara District in recent years but only in small numbers.
The Tule Elk, a species historically found on the forest, has been reintroduced onto the oak-grassland areas of the Fort Hunter-Liggett Military reservation immediately adjacent to the Monterey District. The Tule Elk occurred on the forest but was eliminated in the early part of the century due to over hunting and land use changes. Concerted efforts to reintroduce Tule Elk in the Los Padres National Forest were initiated in 1983, with a small reintroduction in the Avenales area. Transplants in 1985 and 1989 of over 120 animals in the eastern portion of the Santa Lucia District and on adjacent private lands, have been successful. This new herd, known as the Pozo Herd, now numbers over 600 elk and has been opened to limited hunting in the past few years.
Pronghorn Antelope is another species of historic occurrence on the eastern side of the forest and within the Carrizo Plain. This species also disappeared along with the Tule Elk. Similar reintroduction efforts have been successful and the herd has reached a size allowing limited hunting.
There are seven major groups of upland game which occur on the forest: quail, rabbits, tree squirrels, band-tailed pigeons, dove, turkey and chukar. Quail, both mountain and valley, are found throughout the forest at all elevations, although the Mt. Quail are generally found at higher elevation and are less numerous. The valley or California quail receive the most hunting pressure of any upland species on the forest with the majority of hunting occurring on the Mt. Pinos District. As water seems to be the limiting factor for these birds, over 100 guzzlers have been installed on the forest to help enhance their populations.
Rabbit hunting for brush, cottontail, and blacktail jackrabbits is generally overlapped with upland game bird seasons. Except for the Mt. Pinos District, few areas of the forest afford access to good rabbit country. This has kept rabbit hunting to a minimum on Los Padres. Tree squirrels are another group which have received little hunter pressure. Although the Monterey District offers the best opportunity, there is only minimal hunting pressure. There is no open season for squirrels on the forest outside of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties.
Band-tailed pigeons are probably the second most sought after species on the forest during their winter migrations down the coast stopping to forage in the oak woodlands and pinyon pine stands. Some resident populations occur in oak woodlands of some of the coastal portions of the forest with perennial water supplies. These pigeons favor pinyon nuts but in poor pinyon years will shift to acorns, toyon or madrone berries where abundant. The Monterey and Santa Lucia Districts tend to have the greatest harvest with major hunting areas on the coast ridge in Monterey and oak-woodlands of the Santa Lucia district.
Dove populations are generally low on the forest with the primary habitat occurring on the Mt. Pinos District. Generally low seed crop densities and a lack of flat open area limits dove habitat.
Chukar is another introduced species which has only a marginal population in the Mt. Pinos Ranger District of the forest. Additional plantings along with water developments could improve the numbers of Chukar.
Turkey populations in Los Padres currently average around 300-500 birds. This small population is constituted primarily of the outer edge of dispersals from populations planted on adjacent private lands starting in the l940's. The generally poor success of those transplants are believed to be due to the poor adaptability of the hybrid Merriams-domestic stock used and the small numbers transplanted. More recently transplants conducted in the Santa Barbara County portion of the Santa Lucia District, using Rio Grande subspecies, have been relatively successful with good production of young birds in the past few years. Added transplants are planned for this and other suitable habitat areas on the forest.
Waterfowl populations on Los Padres are very limited in both numbers and species diversity due to the limited habitat available and in being out of the mainstream of the Pacific flyway. Due to this very limited supply, waterfowl hunting is essentially nonexistent. Since the development of large reservoirs and good food supplies is not within the foreseeable future, there is little chance that future populations will be enhanced.
The vast majority of wildlife species in Los Padres National Forest are nongame animals. There are some 307 species of birds, 70 mammals, 34 reptiles and 14 amphibians which constitute this nongame group.
Marine Birds and Mammals
Included among the non-game group are the marine birds and mammals which occur along the coastal area of the Monterey District. Included in the group are the sea lions, seals, sea otters and various dolphins and whales which travel within the near shore waters and such seabirds as western gulls, cormorants, pigeon, guillemots, and various shorebirds. Although little can be done by the forest to directly manage habitat for these species it may at times be necessary to restrict public use of some sensitive coastal areas such as some of the coastal rocks used as breeding sites by seabirds or haul out areas by the seals or sea lions. Included in this marine group are such threatened or endangered species as the sea otter and brown pelican.