Vernal Pools and Lands Program Management

ArrayJune 17, 2019 at 12:58 pm

By Daniel H. Hill-Natural Resource Manager-MDIFW

Did you know that some of Maine’s reptiles and amphibians are currently in decline, and a leading cause is due to habitat loss? Vernal Pools are small wetlands that maintain a water level during high rain periods of the year in spring through early summer and during the fall.  They contain a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife populations throughout their life-cycle and have no year-round fish populations.  These unique habitats provide for a diversity of wildlife that are integral to natural community types in Maine.  Vernal pool’s support a suite of species of concern in Maine including; Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica), Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale), four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum), ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus), Wood Turtle (Clemmys insculpta), Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttate), and Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). 

The MDIFW Lands program works with Department Biologist’s to maintain and enhance these unique habitat types on Wildlife Management Area’s (WMA’s) throughout the state.  While conducting land management planning and timber harvesting activities these areas are identified wherever they are encountered within the forested landscape.  There are a set of land management recommendations that have been published based on scientific research and MDIFW collaboration, to maintain, and enhance these unique areas throughout the forest. Forestry Habitat Management Guidelines for Vernal Pool Wildlife By: Metropolitan Conservation Alliance (MCA) is a great resource and provides research and background on vernal pools.  This document also outlines the specific recommendation’s land owners can follow to promote these unique habitats on their own properties.  These set of recommendations not only promote the seasonal wetland habitat itself, but the forested edge, and upland surrounding the vernal pool.  The reptiles and amphibians that utilize these pools to reproduce in the spring and early summer are present throughout the upland forest throughout the remainder of the year. Due to the complexity of the life-cycle for most reptiles and amphibians, they require a specific set of habitat conditions close by each other to complete their life-cycle.   These distances and specific habitat needs vary by individual species.

A Vernal Pool identified during a timber cruise.
 Photo Credit-Eric Hoar- MDIFW Land Management Biologist

Over the next year, we will be working on two projects that have reptile and amphibian habitat goals and objectives incorporated into the management.  We will be conducting a timber harvest and habitat management operation on the Frye Mountain WMA located in Knox, ME.  This operation has specific objectives outlined in the plan that will promote these seasonal wetlands where they are currently located on the property.  Species that utilize vernal pools for breeding and life cycle development will benefit from the proposed management activities to minimize disturbance to the pool, maintain predominantly closed canopy conditions, and recruit additional coarse woody debris within the 400’ life zone surrounding pools.

A Blanding's Turtle nesting in substrate
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Leclere at

A Blanding’s turtle nesting area enhancement project is planned at the Mt. Agamenticus WMA located in Ogunquit, ME.  Utilizing an area where this species has been identified, we are going to provide the necessary conditions to promote nesting opportunities for this state listed endangered species. Excavating a small (.25 acre) area, we will bring in off-site sand material, and enhance the substrate to provide better nesting conditions for turtles that have been previously surveyed in proximity to this location.