'Improving' a Naturally Wet Area??

Scbnymph(z5 NY)October 30, 2005

Hello All.....

We have a house in Western MA that sits in a wooded hollow, 75% of the property is in part shade. At the back of the house we have an area which has always been described as a "vernal pool". During the spring thaw and again during the fall rains we have a shallow (1 - 2ft) "pond" which slowly flows towards another "pond" like area before travelling on to a nearby lake. For the entire summer the ground in this area is what I would describe as "damp", there is no standing water but the ground never really dries out

There are tree's EVERYWHERE so I don't think I have a "bog" but I am curious to know how this area would be classified??

I would really like to "develop" this area a little as at the moment it is really over grown and weedy, however there are a number of native plants that I obviously don't want to disturb. The area is surrounded by Ferns, Wild Asters, Jewelweed and Goldenrod, not to mention the tree's (both deciduous & evergreen). I'm sure there must be others that I haven't noticed!

Where should I start?? Are there any good websites or books you guys could recommend??

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It sounds as if you have a swamp, a wet area characterized by vegetation such as woody plants like trees and shrubs.

I'm also interested in any responses to this thread. I have a swampy area between a steep cliff and a creek which I'm interested in clearing some scraggily trees, and perhaps hand digging a small, shallow pond for planting.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 10:48AM
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Scbnymph(z5 NY)

From reading some other posts I thought I may have a swamp, but it doesn't seem like a swamp in what I consider the "traditional" sense???

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:51PM
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I can't find it right now, but there is a formal definition for swamp which I believe spells out the minimum amount of time the soil must be saturated and the types of vegetation it can support which is of a woody variety.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 12:29AM
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Scbnymph(z5 NY)

I have been doing some reading the past couple of days and now have a pretty good idea as to what constitutes a "swamp". I have always thought of a swamp as a permanently wet area with crocodiles and other nasty little critters!!! During my reading I have discovered that swamps can dry to the point where its just the ground that is damp

However...Just to through a spanner in the works, I have also been investigating the term "Vernal Pool" as our area has always been described as such. VP's are wet for a couple of months due to the spring thaw and also when there is to much rain, its then dry for the rest of the year. Apparently the easiest way to be sure is the life that it supports, which is best investigated in the late winter / early spring. I guess I shall have to wait and see

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 7:06AM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

If you have a vernal pool I would not alter it other than to get rid of any invasives. Eastern vernal pools are a unique and threatened ecosystem. When I worked for a nature center here on Long Island we worked to educate landowners and save vernal pools from development. Here they host marbled and tiger salamanders which you don't find in any other ecosystem. If it is a vernal pool it would be rain/snowmelt fed, temporary, have no fish and support ephemeral species which use the temporary water as a way to reproduce (mostly amphibians). They are important to preserve.

NE Vernal Pools
CT Vernal Pool
MA Vernal Pools
NH Vernal Pools
RI Vernal Pools
VA Vernal Pools
ME Vernal Pools
NJ Vernal Pools

NY Vernal Pools
More NY Vernal Pools

Vernal Pools Monitoring Project
A good book on Vernal Pools

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 9:59AM
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Scbnymph(z5 NY)

KWoods.....Thanks for your input, the websites were very informative. I'm pretty sure now that I could have a Vernal Pool rather than a swamp. It is rain/snow fed and there are definitely no fish in there, I have also seen Frogs in the immediate area and my husband says he has seen Salamanders near the area. I am going to keep a VERY CLOSE eye on the area from now on to determine for sure if it is a Vernal Pool

I have read that in MA, with enough documentation, Vernal Pools can become "listed", I think I will start looking into this. My husband will be disappointed since the dry pool is one of his favourite place to rid his quad!!! Guess I'll have to put a stop to that now!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 9:10PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)


Local nature centers, audubon, nature conservancy could all be great resources for you. Get some field guides keep a journal and document the species. HAVE FUN, I envy you!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 9:39AM
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Wetland 101: Technically (US Government, what else?) what we call a "swamp" or "wooded swamp" is a forested wetland, trees that thrive in wet conditions dominate. An emergent wetland is what most call a marsh, dominated by herbaceous plants as in our bog gardens. A scrub/shrub wetland is dominated by woody plants generally under 20 feet tall.

To be a wetland, an area must have water tolerant species, hydric soils--anaerobic--usually very dark or grey with mottles, and ground water near or on the surface for at least one month during the growing season. That is hard to determine in dry periods. Some disturbed wetland areas such as cornfields or housing development do not look like wetlands to the casual observer but may be classified as such because if left alone they would return to the natural state. Could be your backyard.

Theoretically, all wetlands are protected by federal law and some state laws, more so in the congested northeast and less so elsewhere.

A vernal pool is a unique, usually isolated ecosystem within a wetland that is, as posted earlier, a habitat for a variety of species, often endangered species such as salamanders and frogs. They are flooded for just those few months someone mentioned. To most people they look like a tangle of understory and a mud flat, nothing special.

The best bet is to contact your county agent or state environmental protection agency to get a feel for local regulations and enforcement policies. Try not to give your name or address--cynical and half-joking. Neighbors do turn neighbors in.

If a wetland is disturbed and altered, breeding and nesting areas for wildlife can be destroyed, groundwater recharge impacted (our wells), and downstream ecology can be changed, like diminished stream flow.

Don't mean to lecture. I thought the information might help in decision making, facts and ideas to work with.

There are no gators in swamps when you get far enough north but I have seen pleanty of land sharks and they are the worst predators.

I don't know if we can "improve" on Mother Nature but we can co-exist harmoniously by being thoughtful in carrying out some of the interesting and reasonable plans in this string.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 2:16PM
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Scbnymph(z5 NY)


Thank you for your input, your thoughts have provided some great information which I can utilise

When I say "improve" the area, I really just mean planting a couple / few moisture loving natives which will provide much needed cover in that area. Since it is quite close to the house and my new mother-in-law like LOTS of grass I wanted to give back a little bit of protection for the little critters that might use the area (whilst making it prettier to look at)

I have also been told that it isn't a "naturally" occuring Vernal Pool, instead it is filled from the sump-pump connected with the basement. This I'm personally not convinced about so will watch the area very closely this winter / coming spring

    Bookmark   November 10, 2005 at 7:03AM
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Defining a vernal pool can be complicated. Direct observation of life or absence of life in the spring is the key as little wet bare spots of no particular ecological value abound. It is quite possible you will see frogs, maybe salamanders depending on where you live and how long the wet area has been around, but it is endangered species that arouse regulatory interests, assuming anyone even knows what you have exists. This is a northeastern perspective.

If you decide to alter the area with plants, if it does flood seasonally you should think about draining some of the water. Then you get new critters but hopefully a happy mother-in-law (sometimes generously called critters themselves).

In some places, NJ for example, it doesn't matter if the wet feature comes from nature or a sump pump--if it functions as a wetland it IS a wetland. Regulatory mind-set, not necessarily common sense.

I wanted to provide information that would help people see what they have on their land and to caution that making changes can have a ripple effect "downstream" reaching all the way to some environmental enforcer's office. It really depends on the state or locality if anyone official cares. The rest of the decision is a matter of personal views of nature and change.

Your idea won't affect the flow of someone else's stream or flood their yard and is reasonable, in my view. My comment on "improving" on nature was tongue-in-cheek. But it really is important for people to look up from the wet area they have and look around to see how it connects to any bigger system and figure out how to contain their improvement without causing change elsewhere. The whole ideas of improving, of making change, could be a lively forum by itself.

I spent a lot of time dealing with property owners' rights and environmental protection, but not as a bureaucrat or environmental cop. I sure am not a fan of enforcement in someone's backyard. I've done a few things...

    Bookmark   November 10, 2005 at 10:33AM
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