THE CROAKERS ARE BACK!
Every year I remind my clients that the vernal pool season is looming in the next few days. And every year, I get requests in June or July asking for us to do a vernal pool check. Sorry, but you missed the window!
For those of you I have not bombarded with vernal pool articles for the last few years, or for those of you with short memories, I will explain what a vernal pool is. Primarily it is a breeding area for salamanders and wood frogs. Eggs are laid and 2 to 4 months later, the salamanders and wood frogs leave the pool area for adjacent uplands. Of course, the eggs attract predators, from turtles to snakes to even bullfrogs. If the water is too deep, and contains fish, whatever eggs are laid will be quickly consumed.
If egg masses are found, the next question is how viable is the pool. We have seen eggs laid in tractor ruts, shallow spots in woods roads, and even in a metal bucket half-filled with water. The pool needs to contain water for 2 to 4 months for the eggs to hatch and the juveniles to survive. Less than that, the pool is not considered productive.
Wood frogs and salamanders are not like salmon, returning every year to a productive pool. They spread out, in some cases, over a quarter mile away. After overwintering and the breeding season starts, they look for any available water. Thus, the mistakes of laying eggs in tractor ruts and buckets. We talk about something having a brain the size of a pea. A pea-sized brain would be pretty large for something the size of a wood frog.
We visit sites that have potential vernal pools two to three times during the pool season. The season is about two months long, beginning typically in March. This year, it appears we may have vernal pool activity as early as March 15th, due to the quickly melting snow and warmer than usual temperatures.
We gauge the productivity of a vernal pool by the number and variety of egg masses observed floating in the water, or attached to woody stems below the surface. Donning waders (the water is still darn cold) and polarized sun glasses (better for looking below the reflecting surface), we slowly shuffle through the pool, looking more like herons than people. Dip nets and clipboards in hand, we log the number and type of egg masses we see. Take photos, too! What a way to make a living!
Vernal pools can come in all sizes, from 10 feet by 10 feet to over an acre. They can have various water depths, from 1 foot to over 5 feet deep, just as long as the water is not so deep as to contain a viable fish population. One area we looked at appeared to be a perfect vernal pool. A quarter acre pool surrounded by oak and pine forest. Other viable pools were not far away. So where were the egg masses?
A fish trap with dog food chum gave us the answer. Small freshwater catfish! Later in the year, we went back to observe the tiny fish jumping out of the water to catch dragonflies. Aggressive little devils!
So, why do we care about mating frogs and salamanders? Why are we wading through shallow, somewhat soft-bottomed, sometimes stinky, small pools? Hardly a topic of lively discussion over beer and popcorn!
In our current regulatory framework, the protection of these breeding areas are considered near the top categories of wetland permitting. Buffers of 100 to over 300 feet have been applied to productive vernal pools. Clusters of vernal pools are even more valuable. Entire potential house lots have been denied in subdivisions due the proximity to vernal pools. Vernal pools can be a big deal when trying to get a wetland impact permit.
So here is my self-aggrandizing portion of this article. If you have a land use project, if you are looking at a potential land purchase, if you are contemplating a subdivision, if you are even thinking about a land development project ----CALL US! Get on our list for vernal pool checks. We have this two month window to determine if you have a vernal pool. Once it is over, it won’t be until next spring that we can tell you whether that small ponded area in the woods is a vernal pool or not.
What is the big deal if you miss the window? Typically, the regulators look at any isolated ponded area as a potential vernal pool. If there is no data to the contrary, they will just apply the vernal pool buffers, assuming they are viable vernal pools. We sometimes talk about people getting religion. After losing 2 or 3 house lots due to proximity to a POTENTIAL vernal pool, folks tend to get vernal pool religion.
This is one of those instances where what you don’t know WILL hurt you!
In My View” is an opinion article that will be posted to you once a month. It is my view of wetland and other environmental issues that will or may affect your business or organization. It will sometimes give you updates on new rules or legislation that has recently passed. In other cases, I will discuss legislation that is “in the works” at our state capital. As the name would imply, it is my view of what this rule, legislation or change means to you. I am constantly meeting with clients, friends and local regulatory officials who are asking me what this rule means or what that piece of legislation does. For that reason, I am sending this out to associates of GES who might care to have this information. I will not be political, but I do reserve the right to be opinionated. If you do not wish to receive further articles, let us know by a “reply to”, and we will delete your name. If you know of someone who might want to receive future articles, just send this on to them and copy us. We will add them to the distribution list. If in the coming months there is a topic, law, rule or regulation that you would like me to discuss, let us know. If I feel that I am competent to say something about it, I will discuss it in the future.
That concludes this Months article. Each past article will be stored on our website at HYPERLINK "http://www.gesinc.biz" www.gesinc.biz or Google: Gove Environmental Services, Inc. I hope this will be of value to you.
That concludes this Months article. Each past article will be stored on our website at www.gesinc.biz or Google: Gove Environmental Services, Inc. I hope this will be of value to you.
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