Wetlands Ecology and Management

Conserving pool-breeding amphibians in human-dominated landscapes through local implementation of Best Development Practices

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Courtesy of Wetlands Ecology and Management

Seasonal forest pools in the northeastern USA are unique ecosystems whose functions are intimately associated with adjacent upland habitats. This connection, coupled with their small size and ephemeral surface water, has made conservation of pool resources challenging. Seasonal pools provide optimal breeding habitat for animals adapted to temporary waters including ambystomatid salamanders (Ambystoma spp.), wood frogs (Rana sylvatica LeConte), and some invertebrates and plants. To date, wetland conservation efforts have been primarily limited to 2 pathways: land use regulation and preservation. Although both of these pathways have the potential to conserve some pool resources, they are often insufficient to maintain an array of pools in the landscape that support local population dynamics of amphibians. We propose a third pathway – local land-use planning – that can complement regulatory and preservation efforts. This suite of strategies, embodied in our Best Development Practices (BDPs), recognizes that not all pools will be conserved; local governances will need to develop priorities for conservation. The BDPs encourage local governances to (1) proactively identify their pool resources, (2) rank those pools according to their relative ecological value, and (3) establish management procedures and apply recommended guidelines in accordance with the relative rankings. We recommend that pools be ranked using biological criteria (e.g., presence of listed species, presence of breeding species, and egg mass abundance) and on the availability and quality of adjacent terrestrial habitat. We recommend 3 management zones: the pool depression, the pool envelope (i.e., land within 30 m of the pool), and the critical terrestrial habitat (i.e., 30–230 m from the pool). Residential, industrial, and commercial development, which may compromise pool habitat (e.g., through building and road construction, site clearing, stormwater management, and lighting), should follow the recommended guidelines presented in Appendix 1 of this paper. Planning at the watershed level, using such tools as overlay zones, wetland ordinances, and easements, should lead to more effective, long-term management of, at a minimum, the most ecologically important seasonal forest pool resources and will provide developers with clear development guidelines. This process is already being successfully implemented in a number of New England towns.

Keywords: Amphibian conservation - Best management practices - Land use planning - Seasonal forest pool - Seasonal wetland - Sprawl - Vernal pool

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