Fire Making, Desert Explorer Updates

18 February 2008

Fire Making

This weekend I continued my experimentation using Cottonwood bark for a fireboard. I have had great luck with dry bark that I have found at the base of larger, older trees. It also provides the hairy inner bark which can be used to create a “birdsnest” for fire making. The “birdsnest” is the carefully constructed bundle of bark which receives the spark created by friction on the fireboard. I had never read of anyone using Cottonwood bark for a fireboard, but I am sure it has been done. Typically the board is created from a piece of Cottonwood branch. So far I have made at least the last 10 or 12 fires using it.

Cottonwood bark is rather soft, compared to a fireboard made from a Cottonwood branch. A 1/2 inch thick fireboard from bark is good for 2, maybe 3 fires per hole. Using the inner bark for a birdsnest to receive the spark is not as efficient as using Juniper bark. My birdsnest was a handful of bark with the pieces being about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. About a third of the bundle, in the center where I placed the spark and began blowing, was crumbled to dust. All in all it requires more work. In the case of my latest experiment, this amounted to about 5 minutes of blowing and coaxing the bundle of bark into flame. The same can be achieved with Juniper bark in less than a minute. For more information on building fires and primitive fire methods visit theDesert Explorer website.

cottonwood bark fireboard with cottonwood branch drill for bow and drill firemaking kit

The above image shows a fireboard made from a piece of Fremont Cottonwood bark. The drill is from a branch of the same tree. The hole in the fireboard was used to make three fires.

bundles of inner bark from Fremont Cottonwood and Utah Juniper

This image shows bundles of inner bark from Fremont Cottonwood on the left, and Utah Juniper bark on the right. Both are suitable for use as a “birdsnest” for receiving the spark from a bow and drill fireset. The image shows both types of bark without having been prepared for use. The Juniper bark is the easier of the two to ignite.

Desert Explorer Updates

This week I added a Nevada Page to the trip guides. There is very little to it yet, but it has been started. So far I have a listing of places to visit in and around the town of Fallon, in the Lahontan Valley. Fallon is located on Highway 50, south of Highway 80. Some of the listings include directions and particulars on the sites to see. These include the local museum, rock art and archaeological sites, an historic fort and the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge which offers amazing birding. I will continue working on this page with all the rest.

I have been working on the Backpacking Foods pages. They are coming along, with about 10 recipes so far. These pages seem to be popular, so I will continue adding to them in the near future as well.

I added some explanations and gear links to the Desert Gear pages and the River Gear page.

I Never Met a Coyote I Didn’t Like…

6 February 2008

Recently a long-time friend who also happens to be a chemist and environmental scientist, Christopher Parker of Lander, Wyoming sent me a link to the story of Dennis Slaugh. Slaugh, in 2003, had a federally manufactured M-44 predator control device release a cloud of sodium cyanide powder in his face. Slaugh immediately became ill, and has suffered from the encounter ever since. The federal government has said they were not responsible for the event, and has refused to help Slaugh or even communicate with him. The M-44 is designed to release its charge into the mouth of the predator that attempts to eat the baited device. Unfortunately, it has no way to discern between species.

These devices are manufactured for and by the federal government, and set by officers of the innocuous-sounding federal agency called Wildlife Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to an article in the January, 2008 issue of Men’s Journal, the agency “shoots, traps, or poisons” 1.7 million animals annually. The same article states that this happens at a cost to taxpayers of 100 million dollars a year.

I have been aware for much of my life of the killing of animals by the federal government as part of the federally subsidised predator eradication program. I knew a number of people in the small Nevada town where I grew up who were in the business of hunting “dogs”, as they referred to coyotes. These hunters and trappers would boast large numbers of coyote kills each year. Until now I have paid little attention to the federal programs, and federal dollars, that subsidize the large-scale killing of part of the food chain of the western U.S. Yes, your tax dollars are killing coyotes, mountain lions, bears, foxes, bobcats, skunks, pet dogs, and have come close to killing humans. Slaugh is not the only person injured by the devices. It is only matter of time before someone is killed.

Poisoned Bobcat found on BLM land near Carizozo, New Mexico

And therein lies my worry. My three year old son and I spend a lot of time in the wilds of Utah. As he gets older, we plan to spend more time, as much time as we can, exploring the deserts and canyons and rivers of the southwest. That is why we live in the West. Until recently, until I learned of the M-44 devices that are used for killing predators, my primary worry in the wilderness with my son was the Midget Faded Rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis concolor, and cougars to a lesser degree. Now added to these is the possibility that he may find one of the M-44 devices. The government requires that a sign be posted warning of the nearby danger, within 25 feet of the device, according to an online post. This requirement is ridiculous in many ways. In the case of my son, who cannot read yet, it is utterly useless.

There is just too much for me to cover regarding this subject at the moment. I will follow up on this post, continue researching, and add more links to stories as I find them. Some of the topics I plan to research include ranching subsidies, the actual threat of predators as opposed to what might be the perceived threat, the actual loss by ranchers each year due to predators, the possible environmental damage caused by the release of sodium cyanide, the threat of coyotes to people in both wilderness and urban/suburban settings, and the position of my Colorado representatives on these issues.

This brings me to the bill introduced in the House in December of last year. The comment period ends on 05 March, 2008. The bill is titled the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act. It can be read by clicking here and typing “HR 4775”, the bill number, in the search field. It is simple and straightforward- ban cyanide and the devices. Read it and send an email, a fax, or make a phone call.

The website Trap Free Oregon has more information on the action that needs to be taken, on the proposed ban, the devices and poison. It also has a sample letter to help you draft your own.

The organisation called Sinapu is one of the groups responsible for the petition to the EPA. More info on the subject can be found at their website.

This post and my further research will be available at