The Brewster Conservation Trust board of trustees honored James Van Baalen at its meeting on May 5, 2015. Jim has volunteered for BCT and the Museum of Natural History for the past five years as a vernal pool documentation specialist. A fancy name for swamp-mucking with a purpose!
See a short video of Jim
Vernal pools are small, shallow ponds that appear in the spring when groundwater levels are high, but recede in the summer and fall as they dry out and the water table drops. Owing to this ephemeral appearance of the water body, fish cannot live in them. No fish, no nasty predators that love to consume amphibian eggs. So, many salamanders and frogs and invertebrates like fairy shrimp need vernal pools to spawn in. Because these pools are small and appear to some as glorified puddles, they are often filled in during development and construction.
But if we know where they are, we can protect them.
But we cannot know where they are without people like Jim Van Baalen.
Jim received training through the Association to Preserve Cape Cod on how to document vernal pools by identifying its special characteristics, such as the presence of salamander egg masses, wood frog croaking and dipnetting for fairy shrimp. Turning in his paperwork, photos and short videos to the State Natural Heritage Program provides official certification of the pool and protects them from development.
Jim has visited 55 vernal pools in Brewster and has been able to document 33 of them, 33 pools having the required characteristics. Thirty-three pools that will be protected from manmade disturbance. See a 45-second video of his documentation of one recent pool by clicking here.
BCT Trustee Peter Johnson read a poem in Jim’s honor and presented him with a plaque to celebrate his achievement, with his wife Joan Van Baalen, Brewster’s “vernal pool widow.” See story in The Cape Codder here.