During the middle decades of the 20th century, all California condors depended on habitat found within the Los Padres National Forest. This national forest was key to the survival of the species.
With that in mind, I collected 7 maps of the Los Padres National Forest published by the federal government’s Forest Service. These are maps intended for the public. They reveal something of the “multiple uses” management of the forest, including the designation of areas for the condor. More importantly, because they include supplementary information about the forest, the maps serve as guides to the forest, including its most famous avian residents.
So here’s a look at these maps.
The national forest known today as Los Padres was once called the Santa Barbara National Forest (after the nearby city). This map, dated 1925, bears a stamp marking the name change:
I did not expect that a nearly-century-old map would be so similar to a current map. By that I mean that the old map is large (40 x 32 inches) and supplemented with text and photos on the reverse side. (But unlike all the later maps, this one credits its creators: H A Sedelmeyer and D E Walker.)
Here’s a photo from the (fragile) map that puts its 1925 publication date in perspective:
There’s no mention of California condors anywhere. But there is information relevant to the condor story:
There are two State game refuges within the forest, the Manzana Game Refuge in Santa Barbara County and the Sespe Game Refuge in Ventura County. No hunting is allowed within the boundaries of these game refuges, except for predatory animals …
These closeups show the 2 game refuges (for scale, the small squares in all the maps are typically 1 mile on each side):
The game refuges on the 1925 were to later become sanctuaries for the California condor.
My 1951 map is smaller (20 x 18 inches) and simpler, having no text or photos.
In fact, this map includes only the southern/eastern part of Los Padres National Forest. Notably, this shows a Sespe Wildlife Area that is considerably smaller than the Sespe Game Refuge delineated on the older map.
The 1961 map is identified as a revision of the 1951 map.
The differences between the 1951 and 1961 versions of the maps themselves are minor. But the reverse side of the newer map includes text, although still nothing about the California condor. In fact, while there’s some explanation of the forest’s vegetation and a number of tree species are named, the discussion of animals is minimal and downright odd:
… Los Padres National Forest … provides forage for about 7,000 head of cattle and the natural habitat for an estimated 36,000 big game animals and thousands of smaller birds.
It’s distressing that this text implies that the larger birds are “big game”.
My 1969 map (the one I literally grew up with) is a comprehensive document. It is large (36 x 27 inches), has maps on both sides, plus text and photos on one side.
This is the 1st of the 7 maps to provide information about the California condor. Here is that information in its entirety:
There’s also a photo of a condor in flight:
As in the text, the Sespe Wildlife Area of 1951 and 1961 is now called the Sespe Condor Sanctuary:
The 1969 map also shows the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary:
The Sisquoc sanctuary is a very small part of what was called the Manzana Game Refuge on the 1925 map.
The 1984 map is a somewhat larger (36 x 36 inches) version of the 1969 map:
The text about condors in the 1984 map is essentially the same as in 1969 except for a critical difference in one paragraph:
Between 1969 and 1984, the number of California condors living in the wild – all in the Los Padres National Forest – fell from about 100 to about 30.
An addition to the 1984 map is a diagram with flight silhouettes of a number of large birds, including mature and juvenile condors.
The 1984 map also shows the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, located adjacent to the Sespe sanctuary. This small wildlife refuge played a critical role in the management of California condors, including serving as the site of the 1st releases to the wild of birds bred in captivity.
The 2008 map presents just the northern part of the Los Padres National Forest:
This is the largest of the 7 maps (45 x 45 inches). There is a brief section devoted to animals that features the condor:
The California condor is noted in 2 other sections of the text. Under the heading “Points of Interest”, Hi Mountain Lookout is identified as “a research and public education center for the recovery of the endangered California condor.” Under “Hunting” is this request:
Please consider using non-lead ammunition whenever possible to reduce the threat of lead poisoning of wildlife, including the endangered California condor.
Fortunately, that 2008 request is now the law in California.
The 2012 map is another one limited to the southern/eastern parts of the Los Padres:
This map (48 x 27 inches) has text similar to the 2008 map. Here is how the 2 condor sanctuaries and the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge are shown in this recent map:
I expect that many people first learned about California condors from the Forest Service’s maps of the Los Padres National Forest (these used to be provided free to visitors). Many were also guided to see their first condors by these maps. The maps, as well as those produced by others (perhaps a subject for a future post) are an essential piece of the story of California condors and humans.
Versions of the diagram of bird silhouettes referred to above are shown in the post Pamphlets from the National Audubon Society.