The NHESP strongly recommends that landowner permission be obtained prior to collecting certification documentation. It is the sole responsibility of an individual providing vernal pool certification information to the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to ensure that all of their activities associated with gathering said information comply with law.
Spotted Salamander adult.  Photo by Lori Erb.
Spotted Salamander adult. Photo by Lori Erb.

The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program reviews and processes applications for the official "certification" of vernal pool habitats, based primarily on the documentation of wetland use by species that depend on vernal pool habitats to complete their life cycles (i.e., "obligate vernal pool species"). This certification process relies largely on volunteers to survey possible vernal pools and to submit documentation of certain biological and physical evidence of vernal pool habitat. The NHESP then reviews the documentation and makes a determination whether the wetland basin in question meets the biological and physical criteria necessary for status as a "Certified Vernal Pool". The NHESP's Guidelines for the Certification of Vernal Pool Habitat  pdf format of Vernal Pool Certification Guidelines
file size 1MB describes those criteria and how citizens can provide the necessary documentation for certification. Surveying vernal pool habitats and compiling information for their certification is an excellent way for people to learn about vernal pools and the animals that use them, and to become more involved in the protection of natural resources in Massachusetts.

The best way to submit your certification information is through the Vernal Pool & Rare Species (VPRS) Information System . The VPRS System is a web-based mapping and data submittal application that provides users with a way to submit rare species observation reports and vernal pool certification forms to NHESP electronically. The VPRS System allows you to complete an entire form (NHESP Plant or Animal Observation Form, Vernal Pool Certification Form) online, including the mapping of the location and the ability to upload photos or other associated documents.  

For current information on pools which have been certified Massachusetts, please visit MassGIS and view the NHESP Certified Vernal Pools datalayer (available for download or for viewing with OLIVER).

Blue-spotted Salamander (Special Concern) egg mass.  Photo by Jacob E. Kubel.
Salamander egg mass. Photo by Jacob E. Kubel.

Official certification provides a vernal pool, and up to 100 feet beyond its boundary in some cases, certain protections under several state and federal laws. Originally defined and protected under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act regulations, Certified Vernal Pools now also receive protection under Title 5 of the Massachusetts Environmental Code, Section 401 of the Federal Clean Water Act, the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards which relate to Section 401, and the Massachusetts Forest Cutting Practices Act. These regulations help to prevent direct impacts to certified vernal pools and to minimize indirect impacts. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is responsible for the implementation of these regulations (except for the Forest Cutting Practices Act, administered by the Department of Conservation and Recreation) and has designated specific staff as vernal pool liaisons