Cumberland's vernal pools to be tested this month

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CUMBERLAND — Town officials and volunteers this month will begin testing 250 areas identified earlier this year as potential vernal pools.

The Department of Environmental Protection began regulating significant vernal pools and the areas surrounding them in 2007. Unlike neighboring Falmouth, Cumberland does not plan to regulate vernal pools any further than state regulations.

In March, the town sent letters to about 150 landowners explaining the survey to be done on their properties, which is being conducted as part of a regional vernal pool mapping project funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wetland Program Development Grant. The town contributed about $2,000 to take part in the project, which is under way or has been completed in Falmouth, Yarmouth, Freeport, Topsham, Windham, Scarborough and other towns.

Vernal pools – seasonal pools in shallow depressions that provide the primary breeding habitat for wood frogs, spotted and blue-spotted salamanders and some insects – are regulated by the DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Development within 250 feet of significant pools requires a permit. Significant pools are those containing certain numbers of salamander or wood frog egg masses or fairy shrimp.

Volunteers over the next two months will be testing pools identified earlier this year by aerial imaging in order to determine which are significant, and therefore subject to restrictions. According to the town, more than half of all Maine vernal pools are not considered significant.

Volunteers will be trained April 19 by University of Maine ecologists.

Landowners looking to develop over or near vernal pools are required either to prove that their pools are not significant – a process which takes at least two years – or can assume they are significant and abide by the appropriate standards. This year’s survey is the first step in identifying significant vernal pools, and is expected to help those landowners who agreed to participate in addition to helping the town identify habitats and wildlife within the town.

Town Planner Carla Nixon said 18 landowners opted out of the survey.

Since a survey was done in Falmouth in 2002, that town has used its zoning ordinance to further regulate development around vernal pools. That restriction has generated some opposition in recent years, because land owners fear property values are reduced by the strict town regulations.

Cumberland does not plan on developing its own vernal pool regulations, according to the letter sent to property owners.

“The information we collect in this survey is to be used solely for helping landowners to meet new state regulations, and for the sake of learning more” about wildlife in Cumberland, the letter said.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or