By Becky Burris
Vice President of Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability, Verso Corporation
Forests are more than just trees. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Verso Corporation embarked on a unique project to identify and map vernal pools, which are an important but lesser-known component of forest ecosystems.
Vernal pools are small, temporary bodies of water that form in shallow depressions, primarily in forested areas. They’re important because they provide food, water and habitat for a number of animal and plant species. Vernal pools also contribute to nutrient cycling, water storage, and aquifer recharge. They have only recently been widely recognized for their ecological role and importance to healthy forest ecosystems. Because vernal pools are small, isolated and dry for part of the year, they can be difficult to identify in the field, easily overlooked and unintentionally damaged or destroyed.
Verso collaborated with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (a program of Michigan State University Extension), the Michigan Forest Products Council and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to identify and map vernal pools in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where we procure wood for our pulp and paper production. Our project provided new information that will help facilitate sustainable use of our renewable forest resources and reduce the forest industry’s environmental footprint.
We were able to successfully identify and map a significant number of potential and verified vernal pools on state forest lands that had not been documented, mapped or compiled into a single, statewide database prior to this project. To do so, we worked in the field, used aerial imagery and investigated the use of radar to develop a more effective and efficient method for mapping potential vernal pools in forested landscapes.
Forest certification organizations recently incorporated protection of vernal pools into their certification standards. A number of public agencies and private organizations in Michigan were interested in managing and protecting vernal pools, but there was previously little information available on their distribution and status in the state. By continuing to identify and map vernal pools, we can make the growing interest in protecting them a reality.
Verso Corporation received a 2015 AF&PA Innovation in Sustainability Award for its Identifying and Mapping Vernal Pools on State Lands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula project.