Certification is the procedure by which citizens can document the presence of a vernal pool in Massachusetts. The documentation material is submitted to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) which then certifies the vernal pool. When a vernal pool has been certified, it can be protected under the Wetlands Protection Act. Certification establishes the existence of a vernal pool, and helps begin the process of protection. Go to FAQ's for discussion about vernal pool protection.
In Massachusetts, vernal pools are certified as by the NHESP based on documentation by citizens. Documentation for vernal pool certification has three components: field evidence, maps, and an observation form.
1. Field Evidence:
A) Obligate Species Method (preferred method): You provide evidence of the vernal pool itself as well as evidence that the pool is used for breeding by obligate vernal pool amphibians such as the wood frog, mole salamanders; or the vernal pool has fairy shrimp
B) Facultative Species Method: You provide evidence that the pool holds water and that the pool becomes dry or is otherwise free of fish, and that certain facultative amphibians use the pool for breeding.
2) Maps: You provide required maps that precisely locate the vernal pool. These would include a topographic map, aerial photography, and one other.
3) Observation Form: You complete and sign an observation form which documents your findings, pool characteristics, pool biodiversity, and the land owner of the pool.
Completed materials are submitted to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.
NHESP will accept printed and online submissions for certification. Online submissions through VPRS are the preferred method. (We will explain VPRS submissions on another page, not yet available. Feb.18,2018)
Download Guidelines for the Certification of Vernal Pool Habitat from the NHESP website for details on Certification and a copy of the Field Observation Form.
Vernal Pool Certification in Massachusetts
The following will give you the scope of what you will need in order to certify a vernal pool. This section is an overview and somewhat arranged by time for the animal evidence. More details are in accounts of each obligate species.
Examples of the Field Evidence required to submit a Vernal Pool Field Observation Form.
Photos must be labeled with tracking name or number, pool location (town), date taken, and observer's name. If you use a digital camera, print out the images A "tracking number" is some id you use for the pool such as PEA-01, Elm St. Pool, etc.
Physical Evidence: Pool Holding Water
A photograph of the pool holding water. The pool photograph (or photographs) should show that the vernal pool has no permanently flowing outlet. This is not always easy to document in photographs. However, your pictures should establish that the pool is isolated from other bodies of water and not just a small area of a large wetland. The photo (or one of them) should include landmarks such as boulders, trees and such to establish location. This image has power poles and a road in the far backbround.
Provide photos of inlets and outlets such as streams and culverts if present. The pool on the left has an overflow from the SW corner (left in the photo). The overflow is shown in the center image. The overflow collects in a second pool seen in the third image. From there it flows to a large wetland. Such information could show the vernal pool is connected to a wetland making the vernal pool also a wetland (BVF-Bordering Vegetated Wetland) and more protectable than an isolated pool. (ILSF-Isolated Land Subject to Flooding)
Biological Evidence: Fairy Shrimp
Photograph fairy shrimp found in the pool. The picture need not be fancy or magazine quality but a knowledgeable observer should be able to see the fairy shrimp. These three images would be acceptable.
Fairy shrimp (orange organism) in plastic bag along with mosquito larvae (black).
Three fairy shrimp in a net.
Fairy shrimp swimming in a vernal pool.
Biological Evidence: Obligate Amphibians
Provide one or more of the following:
Spotted salamanders go through a mating dance or congress in early spring. This breeding evidence is the only photograph that would need to be gotten at night.
Fields of spermatophores are dropped on the pool bottom as the males congress. These are visible for a week or more both day and night.
A full wood frog chorus:
For about two weeks in early spring, as soon as the ground thaws, woods frogs will chorus at night. When the days warm into the 50's, they chorus during the day. Many cameras can record audio. Your chorus should be continuous, overlapping chorus and not just the lonesome cry of a male or two. Precise mapping of the location of the chorus and of the recorder will be required. Click on the arrow in the photo for a chorus.
Five pairs of wood frogs in amplexus:
Wood frogs might found in amplexus day or night. Photographing five pairs will be difficult as they are skittish and hide when disturbed. Collecting this type of evidence will likely take multiple photographs. In most cases, returning later to photograph egg masses provides better evidence.
A total of five or more egg masses regardless of species:
More than five spotted salamander egg masses.
More than five wood frog egg masses.
A photo of two spotted salamander masses and three wood frog masses from the same pool will total five egg masses.
One MESA-listed salamander egg mass:
MESA is Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. The Jefferson salamander, blue-spotted salamander and marbled salamander are listed species.
The egg mass on the far left is Jefferson salamander, a MESA species. That egg mass is sufficient biological evidence.
A single blue-spotted egg mass is evidence of a vernal pool.
A nest of marbled salamander eggs is evidence of a vernal pool.
Any number of larvae:
Any of these images would be adequate to show the presence of wood frog or mole salamander larvae in the vernal pool. All are taken in the field with the larave in a plastic bag, tub or other container.
Transforming juveniles, in pool, with gill or tail remnants:
Any of these images would be sufficient to demonstrate wood frog or mole salamander breeding in a vernal pool. They are: wood frog with tail, Jefferson larva with gill remnants, and spotted salamander with gill remnants. The wood frog is a field photo. The salamander larvae are in a container for the photos.