Calhoun leads vernal pool workshop at DMC

Members of local land trusts and municipal conservation and planning committees attended a recent vernal pool conservation workshop led by wetland ecologist Aram Calhoun at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center.

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 animals breeding in permanent waters 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 successfully breed. Drawn by the promise of a good meal, small and large mammals — including moose and bear — frequent Maine vernal pool habitats this time of year.

After discussing the connection of vernal pools to the larger forest landscape, Calhoun talked about a vernal pool mitigation mechanism that makes it easier to conserve these sensitive habitats. A collaboration of Maine town leaders, developers, conservation groups, and state and federal wetland regulators created the Special Area Management Plan for Vernal Pools (SAMP).

The tool permits impacts to vernal pools in municipally designated development areas in exchange for compensation in municipally identified rural areas.

“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 says.

“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.”

Calhoun then guided attendees to vernal pools on the DMC property.

DMC director Heather Leslie says active stewardship of the campus, including vernal pools, is a key element of the DMC’s newly drafted master plan.

“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,” she says.

The DMC campus has more than three miles of trails through the forest, fields and along the Damariscotta River. Visitors are welcome to walk the trails year-round from dawn to dusk.