Someone emailed me to ask about poison oak in the Ventana Wilderness after the fires they've had and how paranoid should he be. I remember in Section O on the PCT there were many people freaked out by poison oak. It seems poison oak scares many people more than most things. This is my response to him and I think it applies to hiking in Section O 0n the PCT.
I haven't been to the Ventana wilderness, but if it's anything like the area around Santa Barbara, I can imagine that there is plenty of poison oak. But whether people make too much about it is kind of subjective.
I think it helps to learn all the plants so you don't have to be so afraid. Many people are afraid of Squaw bush because it looks like poison oak. I saw more Squaw bush in the trail in Section O than poison oak.
I always hike in long pants and long sleeves. I use my poles to push the poison oak out of the way. I sometimes hike with loppers and will cut some of it gingerly to get it out of my way. I try to cut it as little as possible (and use gloves if I do) because it will aerosolize if you really hack at it. I will put my clothes in the washer and then take my shower after, (not the other way around) and take my shower with dishwashing detergent. In the field, I will wash with water as immediately as possible if I've touched it. If there is too much poison oak choking the trail, so bad I would have to push through a wall of it to get through, I will turn back. I don't worry about little tendrils crossing the trail that I can step over. I stay as far away from dogs as I can, too. They romp in it so you don't want to touch their fur.
I think it also helps to put it into perspective. It's just a rash. An annoying one that drives you crazy sure, but it's not a disease you will die from. If it's really bad they'll give you medication at the doctor and it'll go away really fast. After many backpacking trips I'll have a few little bits of poison oak. A small rash isn't so bad.
Here in the Santa Barbara area we've had a lot of fires. Many of our trails are not really there anymore, too. In the more open areas I haven't seen that this has caused more poison oak to grow. It likes canyons and shade more than sun (it grows more shrub-like in the sun anyway, easier to avoid.) The canyon areas here haven't burned as much as the slopes. Maybe if you choose a route that is higher in elevation and not so much in the canyons it will turn out that there's just a little bit at the beginning and end and the rest of the way it's clear.
I found a good page online about poison oak strategies in the Ventana. These strategies will apply to anywhere with poison oak.