Monday, December 19, 2022

York Master Watershed Stewards Participate In Vernal Pool Monitoring At Gifford Pinchot State Park

Jim Hugar & Wendy Seifert, Master Watershed Stewards, Jodi Sulpizio, Master Watershed Steward Coordinator, York County

Vernal pools are temporary or ephemeral ponds in forests or fields. They may be isolated, connected to larger wetlands, or in floodplains along rivers. 

These seasonal ponds form from high groundwater or from rain and snowmelt in late fall, winter, and early spring and are often dry by summer's end. They are valuable ecosystems that need protected. 

Threats to vernal pools put many rare plant and animal species at risk. Threats include development, climate change, pollution, invasive species, mosquito control, and lack of knowledge about them. 

A team of Master Watershed Stewards, in collaboration with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR), are closely monitoring and restoring vernal pools at Gifford Pinchot State Park in York County.

Vernal pool and wetland restoration at Gifford Pinchot State Park began in 2016 when Western Pennsylvania Conservancy oversaw the rehabilitation of several spring pools on park property to facilitate complete breeding cycles for the local amphibians. 

Before rehabilitation, these pools held water but did not maintain an adequate water level long enough for the successful reproduction of the amphibians that rely on vernal pools for survival. 

More information on this restoration project can be found at this Project link.

In 2019, under the guidance of Betsy Leppo, Invertebrate Zoologist with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a vernal pool monitoring partnership between Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Friends of Pinchot State Park, and York County Master Watershed Stewards began. 

There are four primary vernal pool areas within the park, with a varying number of pools within these areas.

With guidance from Betsy, the Master Watershed Stewards identified native plant species specifically planted for this project. An identification notebook was created with photos of the plants in various stages of development for accurate identification during site visits. 

Vernal pool visits are scheduled throughout the seasons. Stewards tend to native plant species enclosed in protective fencing to prevent deer browse. 

The enclosures are repaired when necessary, and plants are tagged and photographed as plant inventories are completed. Invasive plants are removed when feasible.

Amphibian presence and populations are recorded and Stewards inventory and record egg masses, developing species, and adults. Water quality and pool levels are also monitored and recorded at each pool.

As landscapes change, natural structures such as rocks, fallen limbs, rotting logs, and leaves are rearranged in pools to improve habitat for developing amphibians. Actions include shoring pool walls with fallen logs and leaves to maintain a sustainable water level. 

Stewards revisit and reevaluate these sites regularly. Occasionally, native plants are culled when there is a concern that their spread might inhibit amphibian development.

Late in 2020, the team began looking to improve the 'science' behind the monitoring efforts. Additional equipment to enhance monitoring efforts includes water temperature loggers, fixed staff gauges, and passive acoustic monitoring devices. 

In the upcoming year, the team will participate in crowd-sourcing programs through CrowdHydrology and Chronolog to involve park visitors by increasing documentation of water level changes and using photos to capture physical changes. 

The partnership receives grant funds from Giant Food Corporation to help fund these efforts. 

The team also plans to participate in the Vernal Pool Phenology Project (VPPP), a parallel program sponsored by the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN). 

The pilot phase of this project will run through 2023 and includes participants from Minnesota to Georgia to northern Maine. The map currently includes 50 potential vernal pool monitoring sites. 

EREN's project description is "to monitor the phenology of amphibians and trees at small, forested ponds across time to identify potential shifts and emerging asynchronies.”

Participants will be looking and listening for the appearance of mating amphibians using water depth gauges, temperature loggers for air and water, acoustic recorders, and trail cams. 

Volunteers will monitor vernal pools for the first appearances of egg masses, while trees will be monitored for bud break, flowering, and leaf out.

Gifford Pinchot State Park usually offers public programs at an easily accessible vernal pool in early spring. Contact the park office in late February/early March for more information or check for DCNR Events

The York County Master Watershed Stewards also share photos and vernal pool monitoring updates on social media on their  Facebook website.

[Become A Master Watershed Steward

[Visit the Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward webpage for information on becoming a Watershed Steward or attend one of the upcoming Watershed Steward Information Sessions.]

(Reprinted from the Penn State Extension Watershed Winds newsletterClick Here to sign up for your own copy (bottom of the page).)

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-- York County Watershed Organizations Remove 50,000 Pounds Of Trash From Waterways In 50K Trash Challenge In 2022  [PaEN]

-- Christmas Trees: A Gift For The Fish

-- Winterization Tips For Your Water Well

-- Environmental Hazards Of Road Salt

[Posted: December 19, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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