Vernal Pool Mapping

Is it March or April? The spring “peepers” will soon be out. That means it is vernal pool time.

What is a Spring Peeper. It is a little brown frog with an ‘X’ on its back. Its scientific name is Pseudacris crucifer in the frog family Hylidae. It is one of several species of amphibians and other animals that make vernal pools special.

The Buzzards Bay NEP previously sent letters out to Conservation Commissions and other groups (sample below) to encourage them to make more of an effort to comprehensively map vernal pools in their community. With recent changes in the federal regulatory protection of isolated wetlands, this effort, as well as the adoption of local wetland bylaws to protect vernal pools, is needed more than ever.

The State Wetland Protection Act offers limited protection to isolated wetlands (1). One type of isolated wetland offered more rigorous protection are “vernal pools.” However, to be protected under the state wetland regulations, these vernal pools must be state certified.

Below is a map of Buzzards Bay watershed state certified vernal pools circa January 1999. As shown, there is considerable variation in the number of vernal pools certified in each Buzzards Bay Watershed municipality. This variation is not the result of the actual presence or absence of vernal pools. Rather, it is a reflection of whether citizens have organized in a particular community to map vernal pools.

In 2000, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program released a report on potential vernal pool sites in Massachusetts based on the interpretation of aerial photographs. You may have already received this report. The report included all Buzzards Bay watershed municipalities except those on Cape Cod. As shown, many more potential sites exist than have been investigated and certified.

To obtain state certification for any vernal pool requires the submission of a Vernal Pool Observation Form with documentation including photographs and locus maps. A variety of groups have been involved with this kind of work. In one Massachusetts town with many certified vernal pools, high school students have been mapping vernal pools as part of a class project. A copy of the Vernal Pool Observation Form from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program is is available at the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species) website. You can also submit information through NHESP’s VPRS interactive page.

Massachusetts Vernal Pool Certification Guidelines.

University of Rhode Island website on the Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer

Red dots are certified vernal pools within the Buzzards Bay watershed. Green circles are potential vernal pools from a study within Buzzards Bay municipalities.

(1) Because of this fact, many municipalities have implemented local wetland regulations to better protect isolated wetlands. The Buzzards Bay NEP can assist municipalities in developing or revising local wetland bylaws and regulations to better address local needs.