Friday, May 21, 1999
Tracking team on the watch for vernal pools and amphibians
Among Carlisle's many groups of dedicated volunteers, one of them can certainly claim to be unique. How many other devoted citizens are called upon to desert hearth and television on rainy spring nights to track amorous amphibians. Such treks are just one step in the process of certifying vernal pools, the subject of a progress report to the conservation commission on May 13.
Maple Street resident Kathy Coyle told the commissioners that she and her volunteer team have had 12 pools under surveillance, and have completed the detailed documentation required by state authorities to register seven of them. Once a pool has received certification, it cannot be disturbed for construction under a state regulation which provides protection for breeding areas essential to the survival of several "species of special concern" such as wood frogs and blue-spotted or yellow-spotted salamanders. To be designated as a vernal pool, the area must be wet in the spring and dry out at some point during the summer, thus preventing population by predatory fish that would devour the eggs.
As described by Coyle, the documentation is difficult to collect because of the short window of opportunity for photographing the amphibian migration and shortly thereafter identifying and photographing the egg masses. The latter are often well disguised among rocks and rotting logs, and hip boots as well as rain gear are mandatory.
Undaunted, Coyle, Jan Conover and former conservation commissioner Rachel Landry are recording activity in two pools in the Towle Woods, two on the Benfield land off West Street and one on the corner of Bingham Road and Concord Street. A determined Conover has even camped out a portion of one night to catch the brief migration.
Coyle informed the commission that local wetlands bylaws in North Andover, Acton and Boxborough, among other towns, contain explicit language giving increased protection to vernal pools. Acton, for example, assumes that a depression that holds water in the spring is a vernal pool, and it is up to the applicant before a town board to prove otherwise. All three towns have strong no-build zones surrounding the pools to protect not only the breeding areas, but also the upland habitat so vital to the survival of adult animals. Coyle concluded her report by pointedly suggesting to her listeners that "Carlisle too needs more protection" for its most humble inhabitants.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito