May 23, 2024

Support for Vernal Pool Bylaw

Posted

At this year’s Town Meeting, you will be asked to vote on a Vernal Pool Bylaw that will ensure greater protection for these critical forms of wetland habitat. The establishment of a 100-foot buffer zone will give our Conservation Commissioners the authority to review any proposed activity within this sensitive environment. “Activity” essentially means any alterations that might impair the immediate function of the pool or result in a cumulative impairment over time. Many towns have enacted specific bylaws for vernal pool protection, and given the large number of pools we have, it is our responsibility to pass such a bylaw this Spring.

Vernal pools are depressions in the land that collect and hold water for a few months beginning in the Spring, then usually dry out during Summer, before the Fall rains and snows help to refill them.

Right now, Rehoboth’s many vernal pools have already hosted Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders who have laid hundreds, and even thousands, of eggs that are slowly developing in the cool waters. These two amphibian species, along with many invertebrates such as Fairy Shrimp, depend on undisturbed and healthy vernal pools to reproduce. They cannot use any other wetland resource to breed. After their eggs are laid, the amphibians return to the uplands where they feed on invertebrates such as worms, slugs, insects, and spiders. This is when you might encounter them hopping on your property or under something in your yard.

Before hatching, Wood Frog tadpoles will need a few weeks to grow inside the gelatinous egg mass, but Spotted Salamander larvae will need 6-8 weeks. By the time they hatch, algae will have grown more plentiful for the tadpoles to eat and populations of tiny invertebrates such as Daphnia and Cyclops will increase and become food for the salamander larvae. After about 6 weeks, Wood Frog tadpoles will have developed all four limbs and will leave the pool. Spotted salamander larvae hatch with four limbs and spend as long as possible in the pool. Their growth accelerates as the pool dries and then they emerge onto land.

Vernal pools are the perfect nurseries for these and other amphibians because predatory fish populations cannot easily establish themselves owing to the dry periods vernal pools usually experience annually. It’s easy to think that only the pools should be protected but the surrounding vegetation provides vital cover for amphibians as they migrate to and from the pools to breed. When froglets and immature salamanders take their first steps on land, they depend on damp leaf litter, and rotting logs for shelter and a source of prey to sustain them.

If you’ve never seen a vernal pool, take a hike at the Rehoboth Land Trust’s Ephraim Hunt Ministerial Lands property on Pond Street to see one along the blue trail! Visit www.rehobothlandtrust.net  for a trail map and look for the salamander icon.

Carol Entin

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