Written by: Elizabeth Muller, Environmental Scientist
While provided limited protection under national wetland regulatory programs, vernal pools are still protected on a state-by-state basis. New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), for instance, takes vernal pools into consideration when issuing wetland-impacting construction permits. You might be thinking "but vernal pools are only visible for a few months every year... how can you survey for such a temporary resource?"
Read on for more information on what vernal pools are, why they're invaluable to ecological health, and how Davey Resource Group (DRG) can help limit costly delays to your construction permitting process.
Vernal pools are unique, seasonal wetlands that occur throughout the northeastern and midwestern United States and under the Mediterranean climate conditions of the west coast. Vernal pools are typically isolated wetlands that collect rainwater and snowmelt. They are covered by shallow water for variable periods from winter to spring, but they may be completely dry for most of the summer and fall. During a single season, pools may fill and dry several times, but to be considered a vernal pool, it must contain water long enough during the growing season of a typical year for successful reproduction by obligate vernal pool species.
Vernal pools provide habitat to many species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, plants, and other wildlife. Because they typically dry up several times a year, vernal pools cannot support breeding fish populations. Fish are highly predatory towards amphibian eggs and larvae, which make vernal pools optimal breeding grounds for frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and small crustaceans such as fairy shrimp.
Species that depend on vernal pools for survival, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered on the state level, include the eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum), marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum), spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale), wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and eastern spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii). Many other amphibians breed in vernal pools but do not depend on fish free habitat for survival. In addition, several reptile species rely on vernal pools for foraging habitat, such as wood turtles (Clemmys insculpta) and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata).
Although most wetlands are regulated under the Clean Water Act, it has done little to protect vernal pools because some small, isolated wetlands are exempt from regulatory protection. However, vernal pools, and often their adjacent upland buffers, are afforded protection on the state level. In New Jersey, vernal pools are protected by the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). NJDEP currently regulates vernal habitat through the Freshwater Wetlands Act Rules at N.J.A.C. 7:7A, which states that, “activities authorized under a general permit-by-certification or general permit shall not take place in a vernal habitat, or in a transition area adjacent to a vernal habitat.” When a permit is applied for, DEP staff review maps showing all locations of certified and suspected vernal pools.
Projects proposed in or near vernal pools may require redesign to avoid adverse impacts in order to obtain a permit from NJDEP. The best time to survey for breeding amphibians is between February and June, so schedule vernal pool surveys now and avoid critical delays in obtaining your wetlands permit!
In November 2019, Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants, Inc. joined Davey Resource Group, Inc. (DRG) as a wholly-owned subsidiary and will be doing business as Amy Greene Environmental, a Davey Company. We are thrilled to expand our team of experts with additional resources and opportunities to support you.