Vernal Pools

We seem to have a richness around our County and, as this article from Sacramento News & Review reports, there is precious little coordination and management being done to protect and strengthen them.

What is obvious from reading this story is that the solution is for a nonprofit organization partnering with government to provide that for the vernal pools able to be saved.

Land developers are probably willing to be involved in this process as long as it is fair and can add to the quality of the communities they want to build; and surely, well-preserved and well-managed vernal pools are a boon to any community.

An excerpt.

“Flat and brown and kind of scorched. That’s one way of seeing the landscape around Sacramento.

“But for famed naturalist and writer John Muir, the Central Valley in 1868 was “one sweet bee-garden throughout its length.” Where we see grasslands now, the landscape might have been better described as “flowerlands,” and he wrote that walking across the valley was like “wading through liquid gold.”

“The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step.”

“But even in Muir’s time, that landscape was disappearing fast. He observed that “of late years plows and sheep have made sad havoc in these glorious pastures, destroying tens of thousands of the flowery acres like a fire.”

“There is, however, a little bit of Muir’s landscape left, bursting with color and life, if you know where to look, and when. Vernal pools are some of the last best pieces of it that still exist. For now.

“These unique ecosystems have survived for hundreds of thousands of years, although the landscape around them has been radically transformed. In fact, 90 percent of the Central Valley’s unique vernal pools have been plowed under or paved over. Mismanagement and development endanger what remain.

“This special place is deteriorating,” says Eva Butler, a local champion for vernal pools. “If this continues much longer, these resources aren’t going to be here.”

“Living laboratories, windows to the past

“Here and there, people like Butler are trying to save what’s left of the Valley’s vernal-pool landscape.

“Butler is founder of Sacramento Splash, an environmental-education program based at the old Mather Air Force Base. Most weekdays from February through April, groups of students gather at Splash’s headquarters on Excelsior Road.

“They trundle out to the field, under the expert tutelage of Butler or one of the other guides, to peer into the pools, catalog flowers and count critters. These small bodies of water are uniquely compact outdoor laboratories, ranging in size from puddles to small lakes. What they all have in common is that they are ephemeral—wet in the winter, dry in the summer.

“Each is an intact ecosystem. It’s just the right scale,” says Butler.

“SN&R first interviewed Butler about the Mather pools more than a decade ago, in 2001. She’s since handed the reins of the Splash organization to her daughter Emily, and now splits her time between Sacramento and Maine, where she lives with her husband. But her enthusiasm for Mather, its natural beauty and its educational value is undiminished.

“There are so few places for most kids to study science in the outdoors and experience nature firsthand,” she explains. And she’s convinced that if fifth graders learn to appreciate special places like this, they will continue to value them and work to protect them as adults.

“After Mather Air Force Base was closed in 1993, this stretch of the base—about 1,300 acres south of the Mather airfield and out to Zinfandel Road—was designated as a vernal-pool preserve. Unfortunately, the county still doesn’t have an approved management plan or the money to protect the Mather pools. More on that in a bit.

“When SN&R visited Mather a few weeks ago, amphibians were abundant in and around the pools. Throughout the season, you can find Western toads and Pacific chorus frogs and the occasional salamander here. By summer, the pools will be dry and inhospitable to such wet-skinned creatures.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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