News & Updates
Amphibian Habitat Restoration
FOTM's latest project, the preservation of habitat for breeding toads in a feral wetland, goes right to the heart of the wetland regulations and how they have been bent to the expectations and business practices of the developers.

See the rainwater poster.

A video series:

Restoring the Rainwater Pool Day 1 (2 minutes 45 seconds)
Rainwater Pool Restoration Day 2 (1 minute 36 seconds)
Rainwater Pool Restoration Day 3 (2 minutes 9 seconds)
Rainwater Pool After Restoration (3 minutes 44 seconds)

Greg Gerritt writes:

"[In wetland consideration] there is a constant tension between regulators and developers and the amount of money involved means that politicians are also involved. What we have ended up with is a regulatory apparatus that functions by rote. Things are prepared a certain way and must say x, y, and z. And we approve another tiny cut to the environment in the pursuit of profit.

The folks this really does not work for are small local non-profits seeking to assist a natural world in retreat. Creating a footpath in a wet area, or restoring a small semi-natural wetland that is silting in and losing its ability to hold water long enough for a breeding cycle should not be expensive or require a complicated application process.

So how do you decide that a wetland needs deepening so it will hold water longer? This is part of the natural cycle of wetlands, and in a forest no one would think twice about needing to restore a naturally evolving wetland, as there is another wetland in a different stage of evolution providing an example just over the hill. But in a long filled in feral wetland that was once a pond with a bridge and a fountain, and is now silting in from the dirt road up the hill in an obvious fashion, complete with deltas of sediment, measurable elevation changes across the pond, and rapid shifts in the distribution of vegetation that are documented on videos over the last several years, you can figure out it is time to take action to preserve the only breeding population of Fowler’s toads in the City of Providence.

Since the land is part of a public cemetery I partnered with the Parks Department of the City of Providence. They were an excellent partner. It was suggested to me that the project I had in mind really ought to be considered routine maintenance, and I totally agree. But it was also my goal to open up some space for others seeking to do similar or equivalent restorations in their watersheds by making the process of restoration work for small non-profits easier. I sought help from the RIDEM Wetland Restoration Team at the suggestion of DEM members of the Green Infrastructure Coalition.

I prepared an extensive portfolio for the team members seeking to demonstrate a knowledge of the site, the ecological context, the behavior of the toads, so that they could help me refine my project. But instead of working to refine the project, they jumped into regulatory mode and said, "go apply for a permit". I talked to several engineering firms and none of them could figure out what to do, and definitely could not help us based on the budget FOTM had for the project.

Therefore, I filled out the paperwork, collected the signatures of City officials, prepared vegetation lists and maps, created very large scale drawings of the restorations suggested on blown-up versions of the city plat maps so that work on such a small scale (15' x 25') could be easily seen, provided pictures galore, and handed it in.

I was then told the 27 8x10 color glossies with the circles and arrows and a description on the back meant nothing and that only drawings with very specific features created by specialists with specialized software were acceptable and that it did not matter how well you demonstrated the need and efficacy of the project, or an understanding of ecosystem function well beyond what is normally presented — the paperwork has to look like this and be done this way.

At a super discount, and because I had essentially done all the work that merely had to be copied onto the right format, a member of the Green Infrastructure Coalition did the work for $1000.

Eventually with permit in hand, volunteers and hand labor did the entire project in which the only cost was $236 for a pond liner (images below).

Before restoration begins, the rainwater pool dries up much faster at times than is optimal for toad habitat.

Shoveling out the dirt and muck allows the pool to hold more water after rains.

It takes a couple of days to dig out enough dirt and muck to get to a desired depth for the pool bottom.

A liner is installed to help keep rainwater in the pool after rainfall.

Over the years I have occasionally run into permitting/regulatory systems that seem to work against the restoration of ecosystems. The attempt to shoehorn efforts to restore ecosystems into a system designed to regulate/allow damage to ecosystems by development creates a rather jarring misfit. It is my premise, based on my experiences and the discussions I have had with others on these topics, that it is possible to separate out restoration efforts from the adversarial permitting process, with the proviso that scale matters and what I recommend only suits small scale projects.

When I talk to folks in the land protection business, there is an occasional voicing of concerns around the over regulation of building footpaths with volunteers in wetter areas. The point of the footpaths on wet spots on conservation land is to prevent damage to wet areas while allowing access to natural treasures. And again it is the need for full blown engineering studies and diagrams rather than a common sense on the ground approach that frustrates and delays small restoration organizations in ways that seem unnecessary.

I was told a story recently about DOT. There are times when a very small action could seriously reduce water damage but the budget does not allow both the detailed planning and the work that would take little time and expense that an experienced crew could just do.

After I wrote the nearly finished draft of a letter on which this page is based, I had a conversation with a leader of a non-profit who said that several years ago DEM did almost exactly what I try to describe below — DEM assigned folks to help make a project happen, including design, and the cost was zero. But he thinks the grant that supported that project ran out.

Clearly we need something to help the restorers who wish to make small improvements through small projects such as ours here."


37 Sixth Street
Providence, RI 02906

Telephone: 401-331-0529

© 2006-2023 Friends of the Moshassuck, all rights reserved. Images by, Mr. Ducke, and Jim Hendrickson.