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What’s the Technical Difference Between a National Park, Wilderness Area, Wildlife Refuge, Etc.?

What’s the technical difference between a national park, wilderness area, wildlife refuge, etc.?   

Tatum Brown
Nacogdoches, Texas 

A lot of people scratch their heads about this. A good starting place is to consider the great fortune each United States citizen has: We inherit 623 million acres, thanks to the foresight of earlier generations. Those lands come in four varieties: national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and western areas overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM, the largest of the four).

The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, created the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). It empowered Congress to permanently protect undeveloped tracts within our 623 million public acres by making them part of the Wilderness System. These areas then belong to not only, say, Yosemite National Park but to the NWPS, as well.

What difference does it make? If land inside Yosemite becomes a wilderness area, it must remain free of roads and structures. Motorized equipment and mechanical transport are not permitted. One myth is that hunting is not allowed in wilderness. In fact, a person may hunt in a wilderness area unless it is within a national park; hunting is illegal in most parks and many wildlife refuges.

Because of the requirements set forth in the Wilderness Act, a visitor to a wilderness area can count on peace and quiet — though the honking of a flock of migratory geese and other natural sounds can cause a stir. The air and water are extra clean. Places like that are harder and harder to find, making wilderness extra special.

In addition, large, unfragmented and wild landscapes can provide the habitat that species need to adapt to climate change. Some components of our natural systems are changing at rates that are out of sync with the species that depend on them. For example, plants may be flowering earlier, but their pollinators may be delayed in arriving to do their job, with detrimental consequences for both organisms. In a large wilderness, there is a greater chance that these two species will find the right conditions to re-synchronize their life cycles.

These qualities contribute to yet another: economic benefits. Most obviously, the opportunity for first-class backcountry recreation brings in money from visitors. In addition, business owners — and a high-quality work force — are lured to such areas because of the natural features. The clean water that runs off wilderness watersheds frees downstream communities from spending large sums to make it drinkable. These services are rarely measured, and they undermine claims by some commercial interests that protecting public land from exploitation means financial sacrifice.

The Wilderness Act designated 9.1 million acres of wilderness, and in the ensuing 43 years Congress has expanded the NWPS to 107 million acres. There are 702 wilderness areas, found in every state except Kansas, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The Wilderness Society, in conjunction with many other groups, is constantly trying to protect other wildlands within those 623 million acres that all of us own. We team up with state and local partners knowledgeable about the places and the politics to develop the boundaries of wilderness areas. We join forces with members of Congress, normally from that vicinity, to introduce and pass legislation that adds the land to the NWPS.

As for the four primary land systems, each is managed by a different federal agency, operating under different laws and regulations. Generally speaking, lands within parks and wildlife refuges receive greater protection than acreage in national forests and on BLM lands.

If you would like to take action to help protect wilderness and other special places, you can sign up for our alerts here, and find additional wilderness news here.

— Ben Beach, senior editor, The Wilderness Society

Save Work and Time With the Deep Litter Method

Deep Litter Method
Do I have to clean out my chicken coop every week? I’ve heard about the “deep litter” method for raising chickens. What is that?

It’s a neat, almost-forgotten way to manage a small flock! Instead of scooping out and replacing chicken coop litter frequently, you allow the manure and bedding material to accumulate and decompose inside the coop. As in compost, beneficial microbes actually help control pathogens, so chickens are less susceptible to diseases. If you manage the deep litter properly, your chickens will have a dry, fluffy and absorbent floor to enjoy, and you will have a happier, healthier flock with less maintenance. Plus, by fall or early spring, your garden will have a nice supply of nutrient-rich compost.

Here’s the deep litter method in an eggshell: Start by spreading a 3- to 4-inch layer of clean litter on the floor of the coop. Dry grass clippings or leaves, straw, or wood shavings all work well. About once a week, as the manure accumulates (mostly under the roost), toss on another thin layer of litter. Add a handful of scratch grains or food scraps daily, and your chickens will stir the litter for you, incorporating oxygen to aid decomposition. If you see any caked litter, use a rake or fork to help break up the clumps and redistribute the moisture. Keep the coop ventilated, even in winter. You should not notice any odor of ammonia. If you do, add more litter. To increase absorption, add some clay.

Over the course of a year, the litter will become 8 to 12 inches deep. Fall or early spring is a good time to clean out the coop — but don’t remove all of the litter, advises poultry expert Harvey Ussery in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock. Leave a base layer in place to inoculate new material with the established beneficial microbes. If the manure-litter compost you remove is thoroughly decomposed and odorless, you can work it directly into garden beds. If some of the fresher manure hasn’t thoroughly decomposed, simply add it to another compost pile.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor 

Photo by Harvey Ussery 

Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .

How to Prepare Your Garden for Spring Planting

Quality Compost

What’s the best way to get my garden beds ready for the first crops of the year?

Taking time in spring to build fertility and loosen soil will set you up for a more productive year. First, a few weeks before you plan to plant, work in any cover crops and then blanket your garden bed with at least a half-inch layer of good compost — a full inch would be even better. The compost will provide the soil with a fresh infusion of nutrient-rich organic matter, and improve the soil’s ability to handle water and nourish your crops. Quality bagged compost can be pricey at garden centers. Unearth local sources of bulk compost by checking Craigslist, or try posting to one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ location-specific Facebook pages.

Second, focus on cultivating your soil. Pounding rain, gravity and other forces can cause soil to become compacted over time, so loosening it before planting should be a priority. If you plan to plant in a young bed that you need to cultivate in order to remove rocks or roots, use a shovel or digging fork to turn the soil when it’s dry and crumbly (never when it’s wet and clumpy, or you’ll be stuck with big, brick-like clods). In established beds, you can use a broadfork to break up the soil. This will prime your garden soil for planting by helping it dry out and warm up, and permit roots to penetrate the soil more easily. Watch the Using the Meadow Creature Broadfork video to see a broadfork in action.

Finally, apply an organic fertilizer to the degree that matches the needs of the crops you plan to plant. Light feeders with shallow roots, such as lettuce, will be fine with a small amount of organic fertilizer raked into the top few inches of soil. But for widely spaced plants that have big nutrient appetites, such as cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers, you should enrich individual planting holes with a mixture of compost and organic fertilizer just before you set out seedlings. For very heavy feeders, such as sweet corn, use a hoe to make deep trenches in the beds, and place the fertilizer in the trenches so it will be directly below the germinating seeds.

As you complete the final step, steer clear of overpriced organic fertilizers. Instead, try free grass clippings or one of the other low-cost options detailed in Build Better Garden Soil with Free Organic Fertilizers.

Pair learning how to prepare your garden for spring planting with discovering some new favorite spring crops. Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for ideas galore.



Photo by Janet Horton: Infuse your garden with nutrients by mixing in a fresh layer of quality compost.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website.

How to Treat Canine Snakebites

dog and snake on stump 
Snakes will try to avoid your pet, but still stick to open paths while walking, and keep your dog at your side. Photo by iStock/sbrogan

I sometimes see snakes on my property, and I’m worried that one of them will strike my dog. How can I identify and treat a canine snakebite?

A canine snakebite isn’t always easy to diagnose, especially if it’s an unobserved bite and your pet has a heavy coat of hair that could hide wounds. With pit viper bites, you can usually see single or multiple bleeding puncture wounds. The initial symptoms are marked swelling, which is due to tissue destruction and body fluid “leaking” into the damaged area. Clinical signs may develop immediately or could be delayed for several hours. Bruising and skin discoloration often occur within hours of the bite because the venom prevents blood from clotting. There is usually intense and immediate pain at the site of the bite (which helps differentiate snakebites from other causes of swelling), and swelling is generally progressive for up to 36 hours. You might also see collapse, vomiting, muscle tremors, and depression in breathing.

Dos and Don’ts

If your pet is bitten by a snake, assume it’s a venomous bite and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible! If the swelling isn’t in your pet’s face, then muzzle your pet (if you can do so safely) to avoid being bitten. Snakebites are very painful, and even the gentlest pet may unintentionally snap at you. If the swelling is in your dog’s face, avoid touching this area. Immobilize the part of your pet that has been bitten by the snake, if this can be done safely, and try to keep the area at or below the level of your pet’s heart. Try to keep your pet calm and immobile, and carry it if necessary.

Don’t try to suck out the venom! Don’t attempt to “make an X” and cut open the area around the bite (you will only create a wound). Don’t bother to use a snakebite kit or extractor pump (they’ll actually do more harm to your pet — and your wallet). Don’t apply ice to the area; this will constrict the blood vessels locally and concentrate the venom, causing severe muscle damage. Don’t rub any substances into the bite; the venom will have entered the bloodstream, and any substance applied topically will be ineffective. Don’t apply a tourniquet; you’ll only succeed in causing further tissue damage and possibly necessitate a limb amputation. Don’t allow your pet to move about freely.

And finally, don’t attempt to capture the snake for later identification!

Snakebite Prevention

To try to avoid canine snakebites altogether, stay on open paths while hiking with your pet. Keep your pet on a leash away from high grass and rocky outcrops, where snakes like to rest. Don’t let your pet explore holes or dig under rocks.

Keep an open ear for that telltale rattling noise. If you hear it, keep your pet at your side until you determine where the sound is coming from, and then move slowly away. If you see a snake that sees you, remember that a snake can strike only a distance of half its body length; give the snake time to just go away, as it won’t be looking to interact with you or your pet.

Don’t let your pet examine a dead snake, as it can still envenomate.

Around your home, cut off the snakes’ food supply and shelter by mowing close to your house, storing firewood away from your house, plugging up holes in the ground, and limiting birdseed waste, which can attract rodents, and thus snakes, to your yard.

Canine Snakebite Treatment

Because the onset of clinical symptoms can be delayed for several hours, all pets that have been bitten by a snake should be hospitalized for at least 12 hours and ideally for 24 hours. Although most pets generally need to be supported and monitored after a snakebite, the vast majority (95 percent) do survive with early and proper treatment.

Antivenom is the only proven treatment against pit viper envenomation, and the earlier it’s administered, the more effective its action will be. The biggest downside to antivenom is cost — it can range anywhere from $450 to $700 per vial. Usually a single vial will control the envenomation, but several vials may be necessary, even in small dogs or cats.

Blood work is also recommended to monitor your pet’s platelet count as well as its blood’s clotting times. Intensive pain management, IV fluid support, antibiotics, and wound monitoring are required for best clinical outcomes. Blood and plasma transfusions are also sometimes needed in severe envenomation.

There is a snakebite vaccine that may be useful, but no controlled studies have evaluated its effectiveness. A popular myth is that vaccinated pets won’t need to be treated if they’re bitten; this isn’t true, and your pet will still require the same treatment whether it received a vaccine or not.

Thankfully, most snakes will try to avoid you and your pets and typically will only bite as a last resort. But if your pet does happen to get bitten by a snake you think might be venomous, err on the side of caution and get medical treatment immediately.

How to Provide Dog Allergy Relief and Soothe Dry Skin

Ask Our Experts

Recently, my dog’s nighttime scratching has been keeping both of us awake. Her fur seems dry, and she also seems to be shedding more than usual. What can I do to help her?

Dogs itch for many reasons, and sometimes for no reason. But when a dog is incessantly licking, scratching, biting, and chewing to the point of wounding itself, then scratching can be a symptom of an underlying pathology.

Dog Pruritus

The medical term for scratching related to excessive itching is “pruritus.” This is the second most common reason people take their dogs to the vet (gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, top the list). The causes of pruritus can be quite complex, but dogs itch for two main reasons. The first has to do with the condition of the skin itself: Is it infected? Is it too oily? Is it too dry? Of these three, dry skin is a frequent occurrence. The second major cause of pruritus is allergies.

If you live in a region with low humidity, it’s more likely your dog will have dry skin, which is fairly easy to recognize. When you part your dog’s hair, you’ll see flakes of dandruff in the undercoat, and the skin itself may be cracked and tough. The slightest stimulation of the skin — your gentlest touch — can provoke your dog to scratch violently.

Dry skin can be influenced not only by environmental factors, but also by diet. Some commercial pet foods process out the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and a lustrous haircoat. Dry dog foods have an even more dehydrating effect, and they also increase thirst — but increased water intake only partially compensates for the drying nature of these diets. If you must feed dry dog food, consider adding digestive enzymes to your dog’s meals because enzymes improve the release of nutrients. Beneficial probiotic bacteria also assist in the digestive process. A healthy digestive system absorbs fluids more readily from food, thus improving hydration and increasing the moisture levels of the skin and haircoat.

Dog Allergies

If your dog is suffering from allergies, its skin may be dry and greasy, and you’ll notice frequent scratching, licking, or chewing. Veterinarians are seeing significantly more cases of allergic dogs than they have in the past; many veterinarians believe that we’re experiencing an allergy epidemic. While the reasons for this epidemic are uncertain, some of the causes put forth include aggressive vaccination protocols, poor breeding practices, and the feeding of processed pet foods.

Whatever the cause, providing your dog allergy relief may prove difficult. In the worst cases, afflicted dogs require strong pharmaceuticals just to get some relief. Though allergies are rarely cured, early identification and intervention can keep them under control, and in some cases, can substantially diminish them.

Clinical research has shown that one important way to reduce the likelihood that dogs will develop allergies is to give them high-potency cultures of beneficial probiotic bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus, when they’re very young. Probiotics are relatively inexpensive, absolutely safe to use, and can save both dog and owner tons of grief — and visits to the vet — later in life.

Regardless of age, many dogs’ allergies are controlled by improving the quality of their diet, such as giving them high-potency acidophilus cultures, high doses of fish oils, and freshly milled flax seed. In some cases, you may want to give them antihistamines, too. It can take up to three months for this regimen to take effect.

Soothing Your Dog’s Dry Skin

Here are various ways to help improve your dog’s dry skin:

• When your dog needs a bath, try using plain water and a good, non-drying solvent. If you must use shampoo, use a moisturizing type with humectants, and follow up with a moisturizing conditioner. Avoid blow dryers.

• If you have your dog groomed, ask the groomer to turn down the blow dryer’s heat.

• Feed moist dog food.

• Add digestive enzymes to every meal (probiotic bacteria, 2 to 10 billion CFUs per day).

• Provide fresh, filtered drinking water.

• Add fresh oils and other supplements to meals: Flax seed oil (1⁄2 teaspoon of oil per 15 pounds of body weight, twice daily) or freshly milled flax seeds (11⁄2 teaspoons per 15 pounds of weight, twice daily); EPA/DHA from fish oil or algae (5 to 20 milligrams of EPA per pound of body weight, once daily); lecithin granules (1⁄4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon per meal); nutritional yeast (1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon per meal) or hypoallergenic B complex (10 to 50 milligrams, twice daily); kelp powder (1⁄4 to 1 teaspoon with each meal); spirulina (500 to 1,000 milligrams, twice daily with meals); alfalfa, nettles, or horsetail (dried or powdered, 1⁄4 to 1 teaspoon of individual herb or a mixture).

Amount of Salt to Use for Fermentation

Ask Our Experts

I want to start fermenting my harvests. How much salt should I use to make sure my fermented vegetables are safe to eat? And what’s the best container to use for fermentation projects?

Traditionally, vegetables have been fermented with lots of salt. In addition to pulling water from vegetables, salt hardens pectins in vegetables, both rendering them crunchier and discouraging the growth of bacteria other than lactobacilli. By inhibiting competing bacteria, salt enables the vegetables to ferment and keep for longer periods of time. Because preservation has historically been one of the important motivations for fermentation, ferments have tended to be quite salty. But for health-conscious people interested primarily in flavor and nutrition, less salt can be better. Salt lightly, to taste. Adding salt is easier than taking it away, but if you oversalt, you can dilute by adding water or more vegetables. As a starting point, try 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of vegetables. More salt will slow the fermentation process; less (or none) will speed it up. Ferments with less salt may be more prone to surface molds. You can leave out the salt or use various mineral-rich substitutes, such as celery juice (my favorite salt-free variation) or seaweed. Just be sure the vegetables are submerged in the liquid.

Some people promote the idea that salt-free sauerkrauts contain more beneficial organisms than salted krauts. I don’t believe that. The most specific beneficial bacteria we’re after, lactobacilli, are salt-tolerant and abundantly present even in salty krauts. Arguably, salt-free ferments are more biodiverse, but this diversity often results in mushy textures. Though fermenting vegetables without salt is possible, a little salt results in far superior flavor and texture — and just as much beneficial bacteria.

Heavy ceramic cylindrical crocks are the ideal fermentation vessels, though they can be expensive and hard to find. Glass containers work well, especially those with a cylindrical shape or a wide mouth. Crockpots with ceramic interiors make effective fermentation vessels, and you can often find them in thrift stores. In a pinch, you can use plastic, but even food-grade plastics leach toxic chemicals.

The reason a cylindrical shape is desirable is for ease of weighting down the fermenting vegetables to keep them submerged rather than floating to the top. I generally use a plate that just fits inside the vessel, weighed down by a full jug of water, and I drape a cloth over the top of the vessel to keep flies out. I call this the “open-crock” method. Containers in other shapes can work with improvisation, or you can manually press the vegetables to submerge them in the liquid.

Whatever type of vessel you use, pack the vegetables into it with some force (unless they’re whole) to break down cell walls and release juices. I use a blunt wooden tamping tool. You can improvise with a piece of wood or your fist, or you can manually massage and squeeze the vegetables. After the vegetables are weighted down, the salt will continue to pull moisture from the vegetables for many hours. If, by the following day, the vegetables aren’t submerged, add a little water.

“Ferment until ripe,” many recipes advise, but ultimately you’ll have to decide when your fermented vegetables are ripe. Sour flavor — from lactic acid — develops over time. Longer fermentation translates to tangier flavor. This happens more quickly in warm temperatures than in cool ones. If you start your ferment at harvest time, in autumn, as temperatures are dropping, it can ferment for six months or longer. This is one way people survived before refrigeration. Many people, however, prefer the flavor of a mild ferment to that of a strongly acidic one. When you’re first experimenting, taste your ferments early and often. Serve some after three days, then three days later, and again three days after that. Familiarize yourself with the spectrum of flavors that fermentation can create and see what you like.

Adapted from The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved; printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Timber Framing Tools: Learn to Use a Chainsaw Mill (Video)

timber framing with chainsaw

I want to try timber framing with logs I mill from my property. Which timber framing tools should I use, and where should I begin?

One of your most affordable options is a chainsaw mill, or a set of rails that attach to a chainsaw bar to help guide it through wood. Chainsaw mills aren’t the most efficient way to mill lumber, but they are portable, reasonably priced, and require only a chainsaw, which you may already own.

To mill timber, begin by felling a tree, preferably one with few branches or defects, measuring at least 16 inches in diameter. Next, remove the limbs with either an axe or a chainsaw, depending on the limbs’ dimensions. Then, cut — or “buck” — the log 6 inches longer than your desired finished length. Because windblown sand and debris collect in bark and can be exceedingly abrasive on a saw blade, consider first de-barking the log with a bark spud.

Careful bucking is key to creating a precise final product. Use a straightedge to ensure your cuts are uniform. If your mill doesn’t come with a straightedge, you can line a ladder up to the log and secure it with screws by drilling holes into every third rung. (Be sure the screws don’t extend too deep, or the chainsaw’s teeth will hit them.) Use a ripping chain on your mill if possible, as it leaves a smoother finish than a standard chain. Adjust the depth, begin cutting, and you’ll soon have usable lumber. Finally, you’ll want to dry the lumber, though the length of drying time will vary depending on its size and the time of year.

When it’s time to frame, create pegged mortise-and-tenon joints. Because this method of joining logs together doesn’t require glue or nails, be precise when measuring and cutting; the more precise the removal of the wood, the snugger the fit. Mark the timbers with a large “X” where you’ll create the holes and shape the tongues. Using either a circular saw or handsaw, cut into the line on the mortises, but leave the lines visible on the tenons. Chip away unwanted wood with a mallet and chisel. On the mortises, you can use a drill bit to speed up the process of removing excess wood. (You can do it all by hand with chisels, but it’s very laborious.) Because all timbers are different, test mortise-and-tenon pairs as you work, or your final project won’t fit together. When you’re ready to assemble, fit the parts together, bore through the joint, and pin it with a hand-hewn dowel. I use ratchet straps to help position and hold large projects, such as cabins, together. Finally, remember: The sharper your tools, the easier your job.

This article and its accompanying videos are presented by the Wranglerstars, who live on the Wranglerstar Homestead and run a YouTube channel about modern homesteading, and who recently authored Modern Homesteading: Rediscovering the American Dream.

Cody, aka Mr. Wranglerstar, uses a metal detector to double-check for nails before cutting wood with a chainsaw. Photo courtesy The Wranglerstars.

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