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Using vernal pools to study natural resource management issues

researchers with mapConserving Natural Resources at the Community Scale: Using population persistence of vernal pool fauna as a model system to understand how communities can address natural resource management issues such as urbanization, climate change and forest management

Institution: University of Maine
Sponsor: National Science Foundation through the Sustainability Solutions Initiative

Many Maine communities are facing the same dilemma: how to maintain economic viability without compromising the ecological integrity of natural resources that attract people to Maine. Aram Calhoun, UMaine professor of wetland ecology, is leading an SSI research team that uses local vernal pool conservation as a model to help communities find ways to balance economic development with natural resource conservation on private land.

Why This Project?

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat for wood frogs and spotted and blue-spotted salamanders—and help sustain a wide range of wildlife. These wetlands also are relevant to town planning, because Maine state law regulates development within 250 feet of “significant” vernal pools.

The “one-size-fits-all” nature of the regulation, however, does not provide sufficient flexibility to guide development activities and protect vernal pool habitat in the most cost-effective ways. At the same time, towns and landowners must make land-use decisions amid uncertainty about meeting the vernal pool law, potential economic impacts, and other unknowns.

Connecting Knowledge with Action

Calhoun’s team is working with two of the dozen-plus Maine towns that have participated in the Vernal Pools Mapping and Assessment Project to develop model solutions that allow regulatory flexibility and help communities plan development in ways that benefit people and wildlife alike.

The researchers also are addressing stakeholder concerns and key questions including: better understanding the economic impact of vernal pool conservation on landowners and town economies, identifying barriers to conservation on private land, and filling in knowledge gaps in amphibian ecology.

The team’s findings will provide valuable data to help communities conserve natural resources, guide development and reduce uncertainty for landowners. Ultimately, findings will inform management policies that address the economic concerns of Maine citizens while conserving significant vernal pools, crucial habitat and the amphibians and other wildlife that rely on these important places. In addition, this research will contribute to broader principles that can be applied to sustainable ecosystem management.

Update on the Research

Team Members

Graduate Students

Post-doctoral Researcher
Krista Capps (SSI)

Project Partners
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Town of Topsham
Town of Orono


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Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.