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.