Foxes, Land Conservation, and Lyme Disease

How does land conservation reduce the transmission of Lyme disease? Dr. Tim Hofmeester’s research suggests that predators, like foxes, reduce the number of ticks that become infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease by controlling the tick’s preferred host species, the white-footed mouse. It’s a fascinating area of research that reminds us there is still much to learn about the complex interactions between species in a healthy ecosystem. Paul Elconin, Weantinoge’s Director of Land Conservation, was quoted in this News Times article about the work Weantinoge is doing to protect large areas of high-quality forest so predators have the space to thrive.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, Borrerlia burgdorferi, and transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick, most commonly the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). Ticks become infected only if they feed on an animal that carries B. burgdorferi. In the eastern United States, upwards of 90% of white-footed mice carry the bacteria and this mouse is one of the most common host species for the deer tick.

Over two years, Dr. Tim Hofmeester compared the number of ticks on mice from areas with healthy predator populations to the number of ticks on mice caught in low predator areas. Mice caught in the areas with healthy predator populations had only 10 to 20 percent as many ticks as those from the low predator area. Fewer newly hatched ticks feeding on white-footed mice means that fewer adult ticks will carry the B. Burgdoferi bacteria, “The predators appear to break the cycle of infection,” said Dr. Hofmeester.

Lyme disease is more complicated than a single tick bite. Habitat fragmentation, hunting, and the removal of larger predators like cougars may all figure into the dwindling of small mammal predators like foxes, weasels, bobcats, and fishers. Land conservation can play a role by protecting large tracts of land that small mammal predators require. As research continues, will public health officials consider land conservation to protect small predator species as one way to slow the spread of Lyme disease? The New York Times notes, “Nothing else — like culling deer or spraying lawns with tick-killing pesticide — has worked so far to stem the incidence of tick-borne disease, which is spreading in the Midwestern United States, in parts of Canada and at higher altitudes across Europe.”

Kestrels Nesting at Hauser Preserve

Weantinoge is extremely lucky to count Art Gingert among its volunteers. Art has installed four nesting boxes on Weantinoge preserves since 2011.  With his careful oversight, Weantinoge has seen nesting kestrels at properties in Kent, Salisbury, and Washington each year. And, this past July, kestrels nested at the Hauser Preserve in Litchfield (one of Weantinoge’s 14 public hiking preserves) for the first time.

Kestrels nest in cavities but cannot create them. They rely on old woodpecker holes, tree hollows, and rock crevices, but they will readily take to nesting boxes if they are properly situated. Male kestrels will identify several options to show the female and the female kestrel will make the final choice.

The American kestrel (Faclo sparverius) is a state-listed threatened species, due in part to the lack of information on its population, a decline in habitat, and a perceived decline in nesting and migrating numbers.) If current trends continue, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology predicts kestrel population could decrease 50% by 2075. What will help kestrels thrive? Protecting land from development, maintaining open meadow habitat for them to hunt, and thoughtfully placed nesting boxes to replace dead trees lost to clearing or windstorms.

Do you think you have seen a kestrel or know of good nesting habitat? Let our stewardship team know by emailing

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service administers the nationwide bird banding program, and if you find a banded bird (dead or alive) you can report the band number online, and receive an official document telling you what species of bird, where it was banded, by who, how old the bird was.


Photo of Art Gingert holding a female American kestrel by Don Heiny.



Our Merger with BOSLI: Lasting Conservation through Partnership

Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, Inc. has announced the completion of a merger between itself and Brookfield Open Space Legacy, Inc. (BOSLI) effective as of October 31.

Weantinoge, the surviving entity of the merger, is the largest land trust in Connecticut and the 18th largest land trust in the United States by the number of lands conserved. Founded in 1965, Weantinoge permanently protects 10,300 acres in Litchfield and northern Fairfield Counties, including 12 public hiking preserves; 29 working farms; and 42 miles of rivers, lakes, and streams. In addition, Weantinoge offers free education programs to more than 2,000 children and families annually. Weantinoge is a nationally accredited land trust with the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For its commitment to conservation excellence and education it has received a 2013 EPA Environmental Merit Award and a 2017 Working Lands Alliance Pathfinder Award.

“Weantinoge has worked closely with BOSLI for a number of years and this merger is a natural next step for our two organizations,” said Catherine Rawson, Executive Director of Weantinoge. “Through this merger Weantinoge will ensure BOSLI’s land assets are protected in perpetuity. Combining our efforts also enables us to more efficiently provide services and benefits that our members care most about, such as improved public access to natural lands. We are pleased to work even more closely with BOSLI and the community of Brookfield.”

BOSLI, also founded in 1965, is an all-volunteer, non-profit land trust having stewardship of 167 acres of protected land in Brookfield. As stated by Louis Memoli, President of the Brookfield Open Space Legacy, ” BOSLI has a legal obligation to forever protect and maintain our nature preserves but it has become increasingly difficult to accomplish this mission. Over the past few years, BOSLI has relied heavily on Weantinoge for guidance, staff support, grant applications, project management, and their volunteers. It has become apparent to the BOSLI Board of Directors that we can no longer live up to our legal responsibilities alone and that the future of Brookfield’s open space will be better served by merging with Weantinoge. We believe that this is prudent and our best option to ensure that Brookfield’s open space is forever preserved for the benefit of the community and for the education and enjoyment of its residents.”

BOSLI will be integrated into the Weantinoge organization and its board members will remain actively engaged in preserving and protecting Brookfield’s private open space as part of Weantinoge’s mission. Both organizations were in a strong financial and governance position at the time of the merger. As a result of the merger, Weantionge has taken on the management of two public nature preserves with hiking trails

The two organizations will celebrate the merger at Weantinoge’s Annual Meeting on Saturday, November 23 from 10:30 AM to 12:00 pm at the Kent Community House, located at 93 North Main Street, Kent, CT. This event is free and open to the public. For more information or to RSVP, please contact

Weantinoge Awarded Grant to Combat Invasive Barberry

Weantinoge was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Iroquois Pipeline Operating Company to remove Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) from trail corridors at five preserves.
As invasive plants go, it’s hard to find something more irksome to hikers than Japansese barberry. Originally imported for ornamental purposes, the shrub quickly spread into forests. Deer will not eat it, but birds love the berries and spread the seeds far and wide.
Japanese barberry can form dense thickets that change the chemistry of the soil so that native plants cannot grow. Shielded from predators, mice, and the Lyme-infected ticks that feed on them, thrive in the dense, humid microclimate that the plants create. Ticks carrying Lyme disease are 12 times more common in barberry thickets than natural forest. Barberry thickets are almost impossible to hike through, and their thorns inflict painful scratches. Once established, the plant is difficult to eradicate. Despite the harm caused by barberry, this plant is still sold in Connecticut! This grant will enable Weantinoge to focus on specific trail corridors and remove barberry from 10 feet on either side of the trail.
Fear of ticks keep many people out of the woods and away from outdoor recreation. Research overwhelmingly supports the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits of spending time in nature. Weantinoge is committed to using the best available science to steward our lands and improve our trails so that people can reap the many benefits of time in nature.
The five preserves targeted by this grant are the Kahn Preserve, James Morrissey Preserve, Mount Tom Preserve, the Tory’s Cave and Hunt Preserves, and the Pratt Glen Preserve.

Pratt Glen Open Again!

Wind damage from the May 2018 macroburst closed Pratt Glen, but the Pratt Glen preserve is open again thanks to the hard work of our volunteers including Ryan Libby of Brookfield! Ryan’s work at Pratt Glen was part of his Eagle Scout project. Ryan and his scout leaders built foot bridges and crossings through muddy areas, cut back barberry from the trail, cut down leaning trees, cleared the trail of debris, and reblazed trails.
His feat is especially impressive because he completed this stewardship work while balancing the demands of his senior year of high school and a job. Ryan also rerouted the trail segment from Ashwood Lane to the stream crossing. An updated trail map is in the works, but hikers can follow the blue blazed trail.
The Pratt Glen Preserve, which shares a border with BOSLI’s Birch Rocks Preserve, has always been a popular trail because of the serene views of Lake Lillinoah.
Ryan graduated from Brookfield High School and will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and plans on joining the Air Force. We wish him the best of luck!

Weantinoge Awarded Grant for Exterior Repairs on the Smyrski Farm

Good news for Smryski Farm’s white barns. Weantinoge has been awarded an $8,000 grant for exterior repairs to these historic structures that are used by Mayapple Hill Farm and Stuart Family Farm, LLC. Mayapple Hill Farm and Stuart Family Farm use the barns to store hay and equipment, and Mayapple Hill Farm raises their Coopworth sheep in the barns as well. Read more.
The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation worked with the 1772 Foundation to vet projects and awarded grants to 23 organizations. Investing in the barns ensures that they can continue to be used for agriculture and preserves the rural character of Merryall Road.

Summer Internships!

Weantinoge is hiring two paid Stewardship Interns to work 30 hours per week (each), June 3, 2019, thru August 16, 2019. They will be based in Weantinoge’s Kent, CT office and be trained and managed by Weantinoge’s professional staff. Work will take place at Weantinoge preserves and at preserves owned and managed by Bethlehem, Litchfield, and Warren Land Trusts. This is a unique hands-on opportunity to learn about land and public preserve management, trail construction and maintenance, GPS/GIS, and other important stewardship work at different organizations. These internships are funded by a grant from the Connecticut Community Foundation as part of Weantinoge’s partnership program.

Work will be performed outdoors in various weather conditions and on rugged terrain, as well as indoors in an office setting.

Housing is available.

Click here for a full description and application instructions.

New Milford Hiking Resource

Seamus McKeon, pictured here with daughter Molly, is a New Milford resident and a long-time Weantinoge volunteer who has helped us blaze and map trails, under the supervision of his trusty companion Babu, a black lab.
Seamus and his wife Lydia raised their family in Roxbury where they enjoyed the Roxbury Land Trust’s trail system. In 2007, Seamus and Lydia moved to New Milford. For Seamus, when the seemingly simple question, “Where can I walk my dogs?” didn’t have a straightforward answer, it launched a passion project to find and map New Milford’s public trails.
Seamus began mapping Weantinoge preserves and then enlarged his focus area, discovering that New Milford offers over 27 miles of trails for residents to explore! Not content to stick with hiking trails, Seamus expanded his project to include information about which scenic dirt roads are a safe and enjoyable walk or bicycle ride. Seamus explained, “Dirt roads can bring people closer to nature, and are easier to navigate for older people, families with young children in strollers, or anybody who has reduced mobility.” Seamus says two things made his project possible 1) inspiration from John Baker’s book of Kent trails and 2) training by Weantinoge’s Paul Elconin on the iphone-based app MotionXGPS.
Next, Seamus moved from land to water. An avid kayaker, in 2016 Seamus participated in the Housatonic Valley Association’s Source to Sound event and came away energized about the river’s possibilities for New Milford residents. Put-ins for kayaks and canoes can be found along the Housatonic, but information about how long users can leave their car without getting a ticket was harder to find. Seamus has gathered information on where it is safe for paddlers to leave their car.
Thanks to Seamus’ dedication and effort, this information about New Milford’s hiking trails, scenic dirt roads, and boat launches will is available on New Milford’s website, click here, then choose “Boat Launches and Hiking Trails”! Seamus sits on the town of New Milford’s Economic Development Commission and the New Milford Bike and Trails Commission, where he represents the interests of the town’s outdoor enthusiasts. Based on his mapping project, there’s a lot to explore. Weantinoge is happy to be part of this public network of trails.