Doug Harpole was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and grew up around Houston, Texas. His earliest memories are of the many family camping trips, including visits to state parks, national forests and the “big ones” out west: Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Arches, and Bryce Canyon. In 2018 Doug hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and last year completed half of the Pacific Crest Trail before a knee injury temporarily sidelined him. The Pacific Crest Trail traverses 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. He plans on finishing the remaining miles sometime next year.
Doug has lived in Virginia for 30 years. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M and his Master’s degree from Virginia Tech, both degrees related to Wildlife Conservation. He then worked at the VT Extension Service for several years. He retired in 2016 and lives outside of Amissville in Fauquier County.
When and how did you become interested nature and the natural world?
Doug can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be outside. When he was 4 or 5 years old he was fascinated with the bats that flew around the street lights outside of his family’s home. He would throw things up in the air with the hope that a bat would try and snag it. He was constantly bringing things home that fascinated him – but he wasn’t allowed to bring anything into the house. When he saved up his allowance and bought a microscope, a whole new world opened up for him.
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in nature?
Doug shared that while researching terrestrial salamanders he had spent many nights crawling in the forest during rainstorms. “You see a whole different world crawling on the forest floor at night in the rain,” says Doug. He never thought about slugs much until he saw a pair mating one night. “They are translucent and hermaphroditic so there was a lot going on,” he said. On a different scale, he worked several winters studying overwintering geese in the coastal marshes and rice prairies of Texas. “It’s quite a rush when tens of thousands of geese take flight and you are standing right under them.”
Describe what you do on your own property to support a healthy ecosystem.
Doug and his wife live in a house on four acres near the Rappahannock River where they actively work to attract wildlife of all kinds. They have several different bird feeders and enjoy being able to identify individuals and family groups of birds that visit regularly. They actively work to reduce invasive plants and create an environment that provides food and shelter for all kinds of wildlife. Currently, their growing pollinator garden is planted mostly for wasps – no surprise! Doug also enjoys identifying and encouraging growth of native ferns and mosses. He likes to provide habitat features that make the wildlife more accessible for visiting grandchildren. They have toad houses, wasp/bee houses, stumps (that Doug has drilled multiple holes in), year-round water supply and rotting logs and brush piles that are visited by many animals. He maintains a packed sand area for solitary wasps nests. Doug installed cover boards in wet areas that are used by salamanders and toads as well as boards in dry areas that attract snakes, lizards, and skinks where they hide, breed and eat. Their property abuts 200 undeveloped forested acres with numerous springs and access to the Rappahannock River that provides a great playground.
What is something you would like to share with ORMN members?
“Think small” was Doug’s recommendation. He said that from his first microscope to the magnification loupe he carries with him, he is always excited by the wildlife that most people never see.
When Doug and I first began discussing a possible presentation he could make to the ORMN members, he asked if our members would be interested in an education program on wasps. He explained that he wasn’t an entomologist but had started to study them on his own several years ago. When Doug started to talk about wasps he became very animated, explaining “they are incredibly diverse, with 130,000 species compared to 20,000 species of bees.” He said the vast majority of wasps are “not the stinging kind” and noted the integral part of the ecosystem that wasps represent. “Bees always get great public relations but wasps are more diverse,” he explained. “They are a key insect predator and tend to have a bad reputation. I would like to improve their image!”
Interviewed by Charlene Uhl September 2023
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