Wetland expert leads vernal pool workshop at Darling Marine Center

Wetland ecologist Aram Calhoun led a vernal pool conservation workshop at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) earlier this month. The workshop was attended by members of local land trusts as well as municipal conservation and planning committees.

Calhoun, a UMaine professor of wetland ecology and conservation, opened the workshop with a primer on the ecology of vernal pools and their importance to the overall forest ecosystem.

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands which typically dry down each year or every few years. This seasonality ensures that animals breeding in permanent waters (e.g., fish, bull frogs and green frogs) that would prey on wood frogs and salamanders are largely absent most years.

The temporary nature of vernal pools allows spotted salamanders, blue spotted salamanders and wood frogs to breed successfully. Small mammals and larger ones like moose and bear frequent vernal pool habitats throughout Maine this time of year, drawn by the promise of a good meal, thanks to the abundant animal life living in the pools

After learning about the connection of vernal pools to the larger forest landscape, participants were introduced to a new vernal pool mitigation mechanism that makes it easier to conserve these sensitive habitats.

A collaboration of Maine towns, the development community, conservation groups, and state and federal wetland regulators created the Special Area Management Plan for Vernal Pools (SAMP), an alternative mitigation tool that creates a way to encourage development in town growth areas while using development funds from impacts to pools for conserving pools and forest in a town’s rural area.

“The SAMP goal is to make it easier for the pools and people to co-exist, and for communities to foster the rural character of their communities while maintaining economic vitality.” Calhoun explained. “We have developed a voluntary vernal pool mitigation tool for eligible towns to proactively steward these important wildlife habitats. The certainty that this creates for landowners, developers, and town leaders is really important.”

Before the workshop closed, participants had the opportunity to see the life of vernal pools for themselves. Calhoun guided the group to some vernal pools on the DMC property.

“Active stewardship of the campus, including vernal pools, is a key element of our newly drafted master plan,” says DMC director Heather Leslie. “Learning more about vernal pools on our campus and sharing knowledge of these important freshwater habitats is a logical extension of our commitment to connecting people to the saltier parts of our work, focused on coastal and marine ecosystems.”

There are over three miles of trails on the DMC campus. They wander through forests and field and along the Damariscotta River.  Visitors are welcome to walk the trails dawn to dusk and year around.

Additional information about the Maine Vernal Pool Special Area Management Plan can be found at http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Vernal-Pools/