Spring is Wetland Assessment Time

May 01, 2019
Blog Mmi Spring Wetland Assessment Time Vernal Pools M 2019

Written by Matthew J. Sanford, MS, PWS, Associate, Manager of Natural Resources Planning

Spring is right around the corner, which means that our fine amphibian friends will be finding their way to their local watering holes (i.e., vernal pools) soon. A common sound heralding the arrival of spring is the call of the adult wood frog, which sounds similar to ducks quacking. The perfect time to assess vernal pools in the Northeastern portion of the country is from late March through early June. Vernal pool and wetland assessments are important parts of natural resource management and may be necessary for regulatory approvals or conducting environmental impact evaluations. Milone & MacBroom team members regularly perform vernal pool assessments for a variety of project types including infrastructure (major utility and roadway construction), development (municipal, commercial, institutional, and recreational), and water resources (dam removal, flood control, stream and wetland restoration).

What is a Vernal Pool? Vernal pools are typically low-lying depressions found in woodlands, which fill with spring meltwaters and rainfall runoff. These pools typically lack an inlet and/or outlet and cannot support fish. These pools provide refuge for obligate vernal pool species. Some of the commonly found species using vernal pools include the spotted salamander and wood frog. Less common species (state listed species) found using vernal pools include the Jefferson salamander, blue-spotted salamander, and fairy shrimp.

vernal pool management

How do Vernal Pools Affect My Project?
During planning and phasing of many of our projects, we often encounter these special habitats. Although they require some additional consideration, our team of ecologists and wetland scientists are well-versed in navigating both the regulatory and ecological requirements for protecting each pool. We are qualified at performing vernal pool surveys, evaluating pool water quality and hydrology, habitat suitability, and providing recommendations for vernal pool conservation and preservation on our projects.

Why are Vernal Pools Important?
Obligate vernal pool species depend on these habitats to complete their annual breeding cycle. Vernal pools are the only viable breeding ground available to these little critters and are therefore important for sustaining and protecting our amphibian populations. The pools are used for breeding and are the epicenter for the laying and deposition of egg masses for vernal pool species. Egg masses are typically found to be approximately fist-sized and are often found attached to existing vegetation and/or woody debris. Wood frogs tend to cluster their egg masses within one communal area within the pool, whereas spotted salamander egg masses are typically distributed a little more sporadically within a pool. Following breeding, the individuals enter development, which consists of egg mass hatching and larval growth. Newly metamorphosed individuals begin migrating out of the pools during June and as late as early July, often finding refuge in the bordering forested wetlands and uplands. Vernal pools typically dry up during the summer (late July through September), thereby keeping potential predators such as fish from inhabiting pools. Again, vernal pools are vital to maintaining healthy amphibian populations and ecosystem biodiversity within the Northeast.

What is a Vernal Pool Assessment?
Our assessments utilize a variety of methods and our assessments are tailored to the level of study needed to provide accurate vernal pool use data. Typically, we include auditory monitoring, the use of dip-nets to observe the presence of tadpoles, morphing juveniles, or even adult amphibian species. Some projects may include the use of funnel traps, or minnow traps, to better assess amphibian populations.

Are You Planning a Project This Upcoming Season?
Now would be the time to coordinate your wetland assessment needs with our team of professional wetland scientists. We love getting our muck boots dirty, so let us know how we can help.