Certification is a "portfolio" type project. It involves field work, organism identification, photography, interaction with town government, and mapping, writing and presentation skills. In Massachusetts, vernal pools which are "certified" automatically receive whatever legal protection might be applicable. Certification is a mechanism by which to show that a vernal pool "exists".
For the Vernal Pool Certification Project, participants will document for certification vernal pools in Massachusetts by showing evidence of its use by "obligate species". Completed materials will be sent by the participant to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) for the actual certification of the vernal pool. The Vernal Pool Association is not directly involved in Certification but will answer email questions to help with your progress.
Novice teachers or classes might attempt the certification of one or two pools. Experienced teachers or advanced level classes might want to certify multiple pools or begin an inventory of specific properties. Several schools are working with their local conservation commissions to begin town-wide vernal pool inventories. A good place to begin a certification project would be the school property or nearby Conservation Land, land trust property, town land, state forests, etc.
Before you visit a possible vernal pool to begin the certification process, you should have the landowners permission to be on the property and to certify the pool. Formal permission is not necessary for most public land. However, access to some public property is restricted (water department land, military bases, state hospitals, etc.) and you should check with the governing board before taking your students to these areas. As a teacher, you must have permission from the landowner before going on private property for a school project. There may be circumstances where individuals can go on private land without the landowners direct permission, however, for a school certification project, you must have the owner's specific permission before entering their property.
"Certification" is an ideal time to involve the community in a school project. Your Conservation Commission is (or should be) interested in vernal pools. Contact the Commission and see if they have someone to work with you. They may not have an expert on vernal pools, but they can help with determining land owners, finding maps, or even finding a vernal pool. Parents who are biologists, environmentalists, civil engineers, surveyors, etc. may be willing to lend their skills to the project. Remember, as a teacher you do not need to "know everything". You can learn along with the students.
There are a three methods for documentation for certification. In general, these methods reflect the conditions in a pool at different times of the year. For the Certification Project, we suggest you concentrate on finding obligate vernal pool species and documenting by the obligate species method. This method is quite easy in spring when most schools and individuals are interested in certification.
Before you begin certification of a pool, check to determine if it has already been certified. Your conservation commission should have information about certified vernal pools in town. This information is on the Estimated Habitat Map from NHESP which is regularly updated by NHESP and sent to all Conservation Commissions in Massachusetts. Check with them. If that fails, call the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program for information.
If you need help or just want to share your experiences as you progress, email the Vernal Pool Association.