Video Guide: Certifying a Vernal Pool in Massachusetts

On April 12, Northampton’s Broad Brook Coalition hosted a presentation and nature walk by Heather Ruel of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Heather presented this 15-minute video on vernal pools and their certification in Massachusetts, then led a tour through vernal pools in the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area.

According to Broad Brook, “Vernal pools are temporary wetlands that provide critical habitat for invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians, such as spotted salamanders, wood frogs, fairy shrimp and spring peepers (peepers are best known for their sharp peeping calls heard in chorus from wetlands in early spring). These habitats and their upland forests are essential for the survival of many of these species.”

In the video, you’ll learn about the characteristics of vernal pools and the animals that utilize them. The steps to certify a vernal pool are laid out. Certification is crucial to securing protection for these fragile habitats. To request a copy of the presentation on DVD, please email Heather at or call 413-253-8597.

Certifying a Vernal Pool (Google video, 14min 56sec)

See also:

Northampton Wildlife Committe Video: The Life of a Vernal Pool (4min 12sec)

Video: The Nonotuck Land Fund of Northampton, MA (6min 0sec) “Why are Frogs Disappearing?”
Though fungi and habitat destruction have been implicated in the disappearances, the frogs’ plight comes down to one problem: Amphibians are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, a new study published in the May 1 issue of the journal BioScience finds…

Attleboro, MA: Evaluating and Protecting Vernal Pools; Stormwater Modeling

Benefits of Urban Wetlands and Their Buffer Areas
The Urban Outback provides an extended discussion of the benefits of urban wetlands and edge habitats. We quote from it here (emphasis added):

Ephemeral (often referred to as vernal or temporary) ponds
are depressions which temporarily hold water on poorly drained soils.
Vernal pools require sufficient catchment area for recharge; contours
to hold water long enough to balance losses to infiltration or
evaporation; and impervious soils to hold water. These are easily
and frequently drained, often accidentally, when drainage is
“improved”, or water diverted due to minor alterations in soil

Ephemeral ponds are rarely mapped or protected
and may contain a significant amount of water in the watershed. The
abundance of ephemeral ponds in headwater areas buffer downstream peaks
in water flow and ensure a steady supply of water long after rain
falls. The loss of the water retention function of ephemeral ponds
high in the watershed often necessitates downstream storm water control
measures. It is much more effective to retain this upstream function
than to try to restore wetland functions in downstream areas due to
limited space and water volumes.

Breaking News: Conservation Commission Votes to Delay Vernal Pool Delineation on Kohl Property to Spring 2008
…After further inspections of the site conducted by NSNA’s wetlands expert (Alec MacLeod, report)
and Kohl’s (Molly Hale and Chuck Dauchy), Kohl Construction now
concedes that there are probably one or more vernal pools on the site.
Here is Ms. Hale’s report dated August 21, also available as a PDF:

On August 18, 2007 I visited the property off Northern
Avenue where a development is planned. The property is owned by Doug
Kohl and he accompanied me on the site visit. The purpose of the visit
was to determine whether vernal pools are present on the property and
if so, where they are located.

The property is mostly flat and a
large portion is forested wetland. Water was absent in all of the
wetland visited today. Most of the wetland includes ground vegetation
such as poison ivy, royal fern and cinnamon fern. There are some areas
within the wetland that are unvegetated, with only mud and a small
amount of woody debris on the ground. In some of these unvegetated
areas I found shells of fingernail clams (family Sphaeriidae, also
known as Pisidiidae) and amphibious snails from two different families:
Lymnaeidae and Planorbidae. All of these species are vernal pool
indicators when found in a dry basin. Therefore these areas meet the
definition of vernal pools…

Report on Kohl’s Property by Alec MacLeod, Environmental Scientist: Indications of Vernal Pool Habitat
…This site is particularly difficult to delineate,
as the differences between areas meeting the technical definitions of
hydrophylic plant communities and hydric soils are very slight over
much of the site…

…given the presence of vernal pool
habitat, the buffer zone becomes quite important, since such vernal
pool obligate species as Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders live in
uplands during most of the year. It has been the case that the
Northampton Conservation Commission has identified a no-build setback
policy. The Commission should assure that as much buffer zone is
protected as is reasonably possible…

Northampton Redoubt: Doug Kohl reduces “footprint” of subdivision proposal due to the discovery of vernal pools in the North Street area wetlands

Vernal Pool Assessment Protocol for Wetlands Off North Street

Northampton Redoubt: Videos and photographs of a walking tour of North Street Northampton’s Mill Yard Brook and vernal pools

The Environment Says: The Woods Are Lovely When They’re Dark and Deep
…Artificial light can be especially lethal to insects. Gerhard
Eisenbeis, a German entomologist, has written that outdoor lighting can
have a “vacuum cleaner” effect on local insect populations, causing
large numbers to be “sucked out of habitat.” An earlier German study
showed that new, brightly lit gas stations initially attracted large
numbers of insects, but that the numbers fell rapidly after two years,
presumably because local populations were decimated. One of the several
ways in which light fixtures kill insects is by causing them to rest on
the ground or in vegetation, where they become easy prey…

Environmental Consultant: “there are likely to be several hundred vernal pools in the City which could be certifyable”

Northampton Open Space Plan: “This loss of habitat and natural flood buffering areas is Northampton’s most serious environmental problem”