Friday, April 9, 2010

A Hunter and a Conservationist

I've mentioned Paul's life-long love of the outdoors. A hunter since he was 9, Paul has literally hunted from the Arctic Circle to Africa. Lots of people are surprised to learn that he is both a hunter and a conservationist. That's when he tells them that hunters were the first conservationists.

Back in the 1800s, there were no game laws, and people killed indiscriminately year round. Because people still lived off the land and killed animals for food, some species of ducks, pheasants, deer and turkeys became endangered. So President Theodore Roosevelt, a man Paul greatly admires, created a law restricting what game hunters could kill. These laws were committed to wildlife restoration and allowing species facing extinction to survive.

As chairman of our town's Conservation Commission, Paul is involved with the state's Department of Environmental Management's wood duck nesting program. A program started in 1951 it involves the placement and management of wood duck boxes all over the state.

Beginning in January 2009, Paul began placing and maintaining wood duck boxes all over town. When the marshes are frozen, the boxes are set in or around marshes and adjacent to ponds. Wood ducks normally nest in trees because once their chicks are born, they want to be able to get to the water quickly to avoid predators.

Depending on where you live you might see duck boxes out in marshy areas. They look like ordinary wooden bird houses but on poles. The boxes are usually leaning forward. Many people think that means the boxes are falling down but it's actually intentional because that's the way the ducklings get out of the boxes when ready to leave the nest. Using claws on their feet, they are able to climb up the rough wood on the interior of the box and get out.

The survival rate for wood ducks is still relatively low. Paul had one box that was full of 15 unhatched eggs this year. It's impossible to know what happened to them. Others that hatch are killed by predators.

Paul checks the boxes to look for evidence of use in late spring during hatching season. Increases in wood duck boxes in prime locations result in an increase in the wood duck population. The population faced extinction in the early 1900s and many state conservation departments started to set up nest box programs using native pine wood boxes and wood shavings to simulate an actual nest cavity.

Part of being involved in the state program requires keeping records of where the wood duck boxes are and counting the numbers of hatched eggs as well as unhatched eggs and boxes where no activity is seen. When it doesn't look like a box is being used, Paul moves it to another location.

I've gone out with him to take pictures a couple times but since this all happens in the dead of winter when everything is frozen and I'm more of a walk-in-the-park-on-a-spring-day kind of girl, I really haven't gotten involved. But I enjoy seeing his enthusiasm and how much he enjoys being outside all year, and I'll be happy to have the fire going and a nice hot cup of cocoa ready when he and the dogs come home.


Katherine said...

I think that this is great. Although hunting makes me sad, and I don't support it, I know some hunters that do consider themselves conservationists and work to help local animal populations. Good job.

~Kristen~ said...

This was so interesting to learn about! I know that I have seen those boxes in places before and never know what they were. Admittedly, I never really thought to find out either. Now I know! :-)

Just Breathe said...

Thank you, that was very interesting. My husband is a collector of duck nik naks, etc. but I don't know much about their living quarters. How wonderful that your husband gets involved with that. Nice project.

BONNIE K said...

How about that! I've never heard of these boxes. Very cool.

Vodka Logic said...

Of course hunters are conservationalists.. they need to be to keep the herds right and in balance.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

The fire and cocoa sound best to me, also. I would like to peer into those boxes, though. Sounds like Paul and my middle son the Wildlife Management major could talk for quite a while.

Pam said...

I think many people are surprised by the hunter/conservationist connection. Many people think of hunters as irresponsible yahoos out shooting up the forests. And, of course, there are some people like that. Unfortunately, they give real hunters a bad name. It's sad really.

Rachel Cotterill said...

We have some friends who are really good with birds - they helped us to put some nesting boxes up in our woodlands. I think it's great that he's doing this :)

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

This is the first time I've heard of wood duck boxes, but it is great that someone else knows all about it! Think of the ducks that have been born because of them!
Lindsey Petersen


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