Diversity in the Neighborhood

Posted Mar 24, 2021 by: David Foss, CPG, LSP

As a hydrogeologist and environmental professional, my career has focused on the assessment and clean-up of Brownfields and contaminated sites. Clients frequently ask, “What will it cost to clean this up?” My reply often begins, “That depends. What is your plan for future use?” Preparing a site for a manufacturing facility may require less clean-up than a proposed residential development or school. But whether the future use is a factory or residence, the primary receptors we aim to protect are people. Achieving regulatory closure, however, also means evaluating risks to ecological receptors. People may wonder why it’s important to make a hazardous waste site safe for bugs and bunnies.

Ecological diversity is a sign of the health of our habitat. With our anthropocentric attitude, we think this is our “human” neighborhood. But homo sapiens, cats and dogs, coyotes and foxes, turkeys and deer, frogs and turtles, we all share a habitat. And just like the canary in a proverbial coal mine, the smallest residents in our neighborhood are often the first to show negative effects from contamination. If we pay attention to the signs, we can preserve our natural resources so they will be around for the for our children and grandchildren.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy. MassWildlife scientists volunteer time to conduct census counts in wetlands and vernal pools. Intrepid citizen scientists wade into frozen bogs and swamps to track, capture, document, and release critical species. Here is a link for more information: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/division-of-fisheries-and-wildlife

Here are a few photographs of finds from vernal pools in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

The photos (above) show the first blue-spotted salamander discovered in Rehoboth MA. Ambystoma laterale: She is a gravid female (laden with eggs) with a regenerating tail; 6.5 grams, 59 mm snout to vent (tail not included since length it is so variable), and is of the pure blue-spotted salamander lineage - meaning she is not the result of a Jefferson's salamander mating with a blue-spotted salamander.

Yellow spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
Eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cenereus)

As I work in the garden or stack firewood for next winter, I will be looking out for toads and salamanders. Those animals are some of nature’s best pest control, eating insects and their larvae. We should celebrate the frogs, toads, and amphibians in our hometowns. Now that the ice is melting on the ponds, the trees are starting to bud, and the first spring bulbs (snow drops and crocus) are sparkling splashes of color in the drab muddy sod, I am celebrating the start of spring, awaiting the cacophony of tree frogs and spring peepers. That spring chorus is the repeated refrain announcing that the end of winter and is a sign that my local habitat is safe and sound for another year. We want to hear the critters in our natural resource areas. I am reminded by the following quote from Rachel Carson [Silent Spring, 1970]:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

Let’s do our best to keep oil and hazardous materials out of our natural resource areas, to help our neighborhoods maintain diversity, and to ensure that future generations don’t experience a silent Spring.


David Foss, CPG, LSP
Principal Hydrogeologist
Wilcox & Barton, Inc.