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Naturalist’s efforts to keep natives, repel invasives

FALLS VILLAGE — David Gumbart, a naturalist and the assistant director of land management for the Connecticut chapter of The Nature Conservancy, spoke June 21 at the Tuesdays at Six lecture sponsored by the Falls Village-Canaan Historical Society.The historical society brings in a guest lecturer each Tuesday for nine weeks (until Aug. 16) from 6 to 7 p.m. to discuss a topic that affects the Northwest Corner. Originally from North Haven, Gumbart now resides in Killingworth but he has spent a great deal of time in the Northwest Corner. In addition to working for the Nature Conservancy as a land manager for the past 21 years, Gumbart is also a director of the Killingworth Land Trust.The focus of his talk was the preservation and diversity of this ecologically unique area. The Nature Conservancy has 65 preserves totaling 50,000 acres throughout Connecticut, a large number, Gumbart explained, for a state of this size. Six of the largest properties are found in northwest Connecticut and Litchfield County. Together, those six properties comprise roughly 4,500 acres, including the Northwest Highlands (a federally recognized stretch of undeveloped land), the Berkshire Taconic landscape, Cathedral Pines (Cornwall), Iron Mountain (Kent) and Sunny Valley (New Milford and Bridgewater). Also among those properties is the Hollenbeck Preserve in Falls Village, an area that was formerly a Christmas tree farm. The conservancy cleared out the farm, and the pines were replaced with grasses and other native plants, making the area appealing to a variety of animals and insects. The conservancy now has 90 acres of open field that are home to rare and native species of plants and wildlife.The conservancy also replanted native shrubs around the shoreline of the Hollenbeck River. A lack of vegetation around the shoreline, Gumbart explained, had caused the water temperature to rise. Warm waters are not suitable for most fish that live in this area. By replanting the area with native vegetation, the conservancy hopes to create a living space for fish and other animals.Gumbart also touched on some not-so-pleasant aspects of the area’s wildlife.He discussed common and glossy buckthorn, an invasive plant that can stunt the growth of other types of vegetation. Invasives are always hard to get rid of but one of the biggest challenges in trying to expel glossy buckthorn is its close resemblance to black birch, a noninvasive species. The way to tell the difference, Gumbart said, is to count the number of lenticels on each tree; the buckthorn has a significantly larger number than the birch. Lenticels are the white growths that occur both on the black birch and the glossy buckthorn.Even now, the conservancy is going back to areas they thought they had cleared of buckthorn, only to find that the plants have again taken over the area.Gumbart made a plea for all area property owners to keep an eye out for buckthorn and get rid of it as soon as possible if they encounter it on their property. Other plants Gumbart warned about are Japanese wheatgrass and barberry.Gumbart suggested two ways to get rid of invasives such as these. The first is to cut the tree or plant as close to the root as possible. After this is done, apply an herbicide with a paintbrush directly at the source, for example, on the stump of the tree. Another method, and the one most commonly used by the conservancy, is to cut the tree in the same manner, but then do spot burning (also called localized burning) with a propane torch.When asked if that was a recommended approach for someone not in the conservancy, Gumbart said yes, but stressed the importance of informing the local fire marshal.“Always ask your local fire marshal if it is OK to use spot burning and if or how many permits are necessary,” he said. “We don’t just go into the woods and say, ‘Hey, we’re scientists, we know what we’re doing, let’s go burn stuff!’”On July 5, the Tuesdays at Six lecture will be “Music and Numerology: Is Music a Matter of Numbers?” presented by Christine Gevert, conductor, music director, founder and artistic director of Crescendo. The lecture July 12 is “Victor’s Crown—Sports in the Ancient World,” presented by University of Michigan Professor of Classical Studies David Potter.

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