Conservation of natural resources is challenging given the competing economic and ecological goals humans have for landscapes. Vernal pools in the northeastern US are seasonal, small wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat for amphibians and invertebrates adapted to temporary waters, and are exceptionally hard to conserve as their function is dependent on connections to other wetlands and upland forests. A team of researchers in Maine joined forces with a diverse array of governmental and private stakeholders to develop an alternative to existing top-down vernal pool regulation. Through creative adoption and revision of various resource management tools, they produced a vernal pool conservation mechanism, the Maine Vernal Pool Special Management Area Plan that meets the needs of diverse stakeholders from developers to ecologists. This voluntary mitigation tool uses fees from impacts to vernal pools in locally identified growth areas to fund conservation of “poolscapes” (pools plus appropriate adjacent habitat) in areas locally designated for rural use. In this case study, we identify six key features of this mechanism that illustrate the use of existing tools to balance growth and pool conservation. This case study will provide readers with key concepts that can be applied to any conservation problem: namely, how to work with diverse interests toward a common goal, how to evaluate and use existing policy tools in new ways, and how to approach solutions to sticky problems through a willingness to accept uncertainty and risk.

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