Natural Resources

I have been asked many times for help with different projects, so I thought I’d start a list of some of my resources – books, websites, online tools, and other tricks to help you make the most of your outdoor time.

[I compiled this initial list for a specific friend but I will eventually edit it to be a more general guide for anyone who wants to get more out of their outdoor time. Also, I plan to add photos and take out a bunch of the words to make it more appealing.]

Vernal Pool Certification

Vernal pools are essential breeding habitats for several species of amphibians, including wood frogs, spotted salamanders, and fairy shrimp that require these ephemeral wetlands for reproduction. If you find any of these “obligate” species in the wetland area, you can certify the vernal pool with the state of Massachusetts and it will be protected, along with a buffer zone of upland habitat (I think 100 feet). Late Spring to early Summer is the best time of year for vernal pool certification. This can be a fun and educational project for your scouts next Spring. I have done a lot of vernal pool work, and I’d be happy to help. The website below has good information, including maps of already certified and potential vernal pools (PVPs) that you can view using the GIS tool listed below. I don’t see any PVPs in the Town Forest, but there are several at Pond Meadow and other locations in town. If you want help using the GIS mapping tools, I can give you some tips. Click HERE to visit the NHESP Vernal Pool page.

GIS mapping tools

GIS mapping tools can be fun and educational, and can engage the kids who like to be outdoors but who also like computer screens. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a great deal of natural resource and infrastructure data available online in a system called OLIVER. Click HERE to access OLIVER.

Zoom in so you are just looking at your area of interest then click on the layers in the top right to see what you want.  Some of the layers that you might want to look at are:
1. Conservation/Recreation -> Natural Heritage Data
2. Theme Maps -> MassDEP Theme Maps

Many towns have their own GIS mapping tools, including Dedham and Braintree. Dedham’s GIS system allows access to the online version of the ArcGIS (ArcGIS is a professional GIS tool, but there is a free public version has all the functionality that a regular person could want). Here is a VERY brief tutorial to get started.

Start HERE to access ArcGIS online.
Click on CREATE A PUBLIC ACCOUNT and create an account.
Sign in, then click on MAP (in the list across the top).
Click on NEW MAP (top right).
Start with Add+, then Search for Layers, then “Dedham” (or something else) in the Find box to add a base layer.
Save your work.

Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP)

NHESP is the division of Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife that oversees protection of rare species of animals and plants. You can find a lot of information on their website.  You can view a list of rare species by town by clicking HERE. You won’t be able to find where in your town the species was observed (because people would go and collect them, then they would be gone), but it’s a good guide for what to look for when you are out in the woods or the swamp.

Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species
by Noah Charney and Charley Eiseman

This is one of my absolute favorite field guides. You can get it on Amazon for less money, but I highly recommend buying it directly from the guys who wrote the book and getting it signed. That way, they get the money and you get a really cool book signed by a couple really cool authors. Then you can look at all those holes in the trees and leaf mines and figure out what made them. Go HERE to buy it.

Go Botany

Go Botany is an online plant identification and observation sharing tool from the New England Wild Flower Society. This incredibly powerful tool allows you to identify trees, grasses, ferns, and wild flowers by answering simple questions (number of petals, leaf type, fruit color). Just be warned, it is addictive. Go Botany or Go Home. Click HERE. is Go Botany for bugs. It’s about 20 times as addictive. It’s a bit tricky to use because it’s not quite so friendly to the amateur bug enthusiast, but give it some time and hopefully you will be rewarded. Just don’t post any out-of-focus pictures of some bug you saw on vacation unless you are prepared to be berated by entomologists with attitude. Not everyone on the site is like that, but the few who complete jerks manage to make up for the majority who are nice. Click HERE