Vernal Pool Certification, Massachusetts

A typical vernal pool, as seen in Amherst, Mass. (Source: US Forest Service)

Note: For context this article was originally written in 2016. Since that time we have one of the best years for precipitation in recent history.

As the summer winds down we leave a season of marked drought, one of the worst in years. This has proven especially difficult for many of the Commonwealth’s farmers, especially those growing water intensive crops such as corn, peas, or asparagus. However, this begs the question how will our wildlife be affected in the short-term? Unless we see significant precipitation this winter, one of the most visibly affected habitats will be our vernal pools.

So what exactly makes a vernal pool? There are many fine differences in the exact definition both for academic and legal purposes, however the American Heritage® Scientific Dictionary defines one as-

A seasonal body of standing water that typically forms in the spring from melting snow and other runoff, [which] dries out completely in the hotter months of summer, and often refills in the autumn. Vernal pools range from broad, heavily vegetated lowland bodies to smaller, isolated upland bodies with little permanent vegetation. They are free of fish and provide important breeding habitat for many terrestrial or semiaquatic species such as frogs, salamanders, and turtles.

Vernal pools serve as incubators for many species that we often think of as lake or pond dwellers, and for this reason they were often overlooked in the past. While wetlands are legally protected habitats, until recently, vernal pools remained especially vulnerable to development due to their ephemeral nature. Without the proper diagnostic checks in the dry summer months, it would be easy to mistaken such a key natural resource with little more than a pile of undecomposed leaves from the previous season. However while many may find standing water a public hazard in its own right, due to mosquitos among other things, without these habitats we would see significantly lower numbers of frogs, toads, and salamanders, all species that eat insect larvae and reduce some of their risk to crops.

Thanks to the efforts of activists and regulatory agencies, many states have taken extra steps to ensure that these bodies of water remain protected. Some, including Massachusetts, have released a series of additional guidelines which municipal employees and volunteers can use to document and mark these, for future protection. Below I have taken the guidelines of Massachusetts, and in future installments will compare them with New Jersey’s and Maine’s programs to note where they may exceed or lack pertinent details to demonstrating each government’s definition of a vernal pool.

Established in 1987, Massachusetts has a robust certification program, with more than 7000 vernal pools documented and approved through a clear set of guidelines which can be found on the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program’s (NHESP) website. There are no professional requirements for submitted a documented vernal pool for review, encouraging all citizen-scientists following these guidelines to document certified vernal pools (CVPs) and submit them to the NHESP.

The requirements are simple- physical and biological features must be documented within 3 years prior to their submission. Biological features can be documented with photos, videos, or audio of clear quality. In addition to this, physical criteria also includes proper mapping of the location using USGS topographic maps, MassGIS orthophotos, and one additional map either sketched, taken with GPS lat/long coordinates, documented by an assessor, or taken by a professional survey.

The biological criteria can be documented with two methods, collecting evidence for one or more obligate species or two or more facultative species-

Criteria for the obligate and facultative species methods of certified vernal pool documentation


Once this process is complete, the documentation is approved by the NHESP and sent to local DEP offices, municipal offices, and affected property owners. While the program has achieved its aims of protecting vernal pools, in future posts I will delve into further detail about how its ease of approval poses challenges for abuse of the statute in different communities of varying wealth and development.

The Growing Lifespan of a US Copyright and Its New Horizons

Copyrights are yet another intellectual property concept that have been met with increasing controversy in recent years. And in contrast to patents, copyrights are something that have undergone objectively marked changes in both the scope and duration of their protections. Initially the concept of copyright was in the same spirit as patents, a temporary protection to allow inventors, writers, and artists to recoup their efforts and expenses, but gradually copyrights have been made into a concept not unlike the trademark- a lifetime intellectual property. In this article I will briefly cover the progression of copyright “life-spans” over the years and show their expansion.

The first copyright act, known by its full long-winded handle “An Act for the encrouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned“, was ratified by Congress in 1790 and served as a foundation for modern copyright law. The initial act was very simple by today’s standards, its word count alone is quite telling- the law comprised 1,262 words, whereas the Copyright Act of 1976, arguably one of the most significant of such acts in the 20th century, totaled more than 35,000.

So what did this scant bill cover, and how would we characterize it in modernity? The original bill, as described by its name, was limited to maps, charts, and books. Copyright terms were initially 14 years of exclusive printing rights, with the option to renew an additional 14 years within 6 months of the expiration of the first term. The cost per filing was 60c with an additional 60c for every work filed; or about $8-9 USD in 2016. To put this in perspective, the cost of filing for copyright today is between $35 and 55 dollars, and with an attorney’s aid this can run into the gamut of thousands of dollars. This has not changed greatly in its own right however, as the nature of copyrights themselves has become more complex.

Subsequently this law was expanded in 1831 to include “musical compositions, prints, cuts, etchings, [and] engravings” and the terms extended to 28 years plus a 14 year renewal if this was done within 6 months prior to the end of the first term. At the time of its enactment this term was greater than the life expectancy of the average American by a couple years (compare 39-40 and 42 years), setting a precedent for the next two centuries, with lifespans growing at a rate significantly slower than that of the American copyright until they were tied to an author’s life altogether.

Subsequently the law of 1909 expanded renewal terms to 28 years bringing copyright terms to a total of 56 years. Between the two laws however, something else occurred; in 1886 the Berne Convention was created, calling for international standards to prevent the republishing of works that had to be registered prior to its passage. The moment a work was “fixed” (completed in some form), it received copyright under international protection. This prevented many international publishers from seizing the works of authors in foreign countries, though its enforcement had never been proactive until the advent of modern wireless communications.

This law profoundly affected the shaping of further copyright law in the states and abroad, and to date only a dozen states are non-signatory, including (but not limited to) Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Mozambique, Turkmenistan, and Uganda. Unfortunately because of their lack of protection for authors from other countries, authors from these countries do not have the full protections abroad themselves.

I will cover the Berne Conference in greater detail in another post, however here I mention it because it played an important role in US copyrights as the 1971 “Paris Text” extension of Berne provided for 50 years of copyright following the publishing of a work. The US’s 1976 Copyright Act followed this upward trend but would change copyright law dramatically; with its passage, copyright became based on the life of the author plus 50 years, substantially raising the total term to what would easily exceed 100 years of copyright protection. The one liberty granted by the 1976 act was the formalization of Fair Use, which had long been held as a tenant of Common Law but was not codified and had largely existed through the precedent of the courts.

Since that time copyright terms have been extended to the life of the author plus 70 years due to the 1998 Copyright Extension Act, and further provisions have added years to those copyrights made prior to these acts.

A graph of copyright terms in history relative to life expectancy, showing an increasing trend of intellectual property rights going across generations rather than a large part of a single lifetime.

That said, one argument of the current copyright system is that it benefits artists for their entire lives and provides security to their descendants, and there is certainly no disputing that fact. However, what has changed significantly is the nature of the copyright system; the very values it reflects have been altered to render intellectual property as something of an estate property, rather than entering the public knowledge within its own time. While copyrights are an undeniable part of American history and world markets, their application has extended to resemble that of trademarks rather than as works with limits to their exclusivity. What that means is largely up to lawmakers and society, but given the current trend, while the means to obtain information and works has vastly expanded in the last 250 yhear, the public information commons has shrunk in this regard, and what that means economically for society on the whole is something I intend to explore further in future posts.

A Few Little Facts on Little Trees


I went to a meeting of the HartfordSpringfield Bonsai Society tonight and was surprised to learn that—-

    • Many of the most highly-prized earliest examples, as well as most recent, were made in China. Classical bonsai pots aren’t classified by the era of their creation, but the time by which they came to Japan, Kowatari “early crossing” (1811 – 1863), Nakawatari “middle crossing”(1863-1911), Shinwatari “late crossing(?)” (1911-1940) and Shinto Contemporary (1940- ).


    • During Kokufu-ten, maybe the most prestigious Japanese competition, people will spend JPY equivalent around almost $10,000 to rent a specific Nakawatari pot for a week to display their plants; many of these are owned by prominent families and studios which lease their entire collections a few weeks a year


    • Some of the most prized culturally iconic bonsai in Japan will be placed in competitions in pots so new and novel that other plants would be disqualified to the competition by those containers alone; this is one way new styles are introduced to an otherwise very traditional art


    • With some exception, brighter and more intricate glazes are indicative of poorer clay; generally these extravagant finishing styles were an artisanal way to compensate for pots made of non-vitreous clays that cannot be easily heated to a high enough temperature for proper strength. These pots are still renowned for their unique designs and techniques, some of which cannot be duplicated due to modern technology and environmental law. One of the most ideal materials in traditional bonsai culture is porcelain so thin it is translucent; these pots are fragile yet their material is one of the hardest ceramics made, creating a balancing aesthetic dichotomy.


  • Mississippi has a very devoted community of bonsai cultivators including bonsai ceramics authority Michael Ryan Bell, who was our guest speaker

Patent Laws, Property Protection or Societal Encumbrance?

Patent laws have always been a point of contention; the notion that one’s novel ideas can be treated as protected property of the individual themselves is nothing new, but the extent to which they apply to such inventions and duration of such protection is something met with increasing consternation. And yet, patent laws themselves have always led to litigation, and indeed many a great inventor has been consumed by them.

One such example is Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, inventor of the Langstroth hive, the modern beehive used by beekeepers the world over. Such a practical invention was relevant to any farmer, and became a keystone for modern industrial agriculture. However, despite receiving a patent in 1852, Rev. Langstroth would spend the rest of his life simply trying to defend his invention in court; with a dearth of financial and legal resources, such cases dogged him for the rest of his life. This constant struggle for defending patents can perhaps best be summed up in this passage by his contemporaries-

“For the seven years of [The Bee Journal’s] existence…it deprecated the war made on our venerable friend, the Rev. L. L. Langstroth, and his patent, and the consequent annoyance and continual appeal to the courts to defend that patent. His present dependent and helpless condition, is mainly attributable to the war that was made on him, and it is surpassingly strange that some who know all this, now talk of waging a similar war on another inventor.”

In this case, the protections offered by the patent system ultimately failed the client they were meant to protect and thus adversely impacted his livelihood more than they actually protected his invention. And in all fairness, enforcement proved difficult in this case, the novelty of the Langstroth hive was offset by the ease of which it could be constructed. Citing this case as an example of the inventor vs manufacturing interests, we can dismiss the notion that patents have only recently become a system for the rich. Rather the disparities of wealth and social class have always been a barrier of entry to inventors who lacked corporate backing.

One contemporary case has come to typify the abuses patents can create in the market competition between multinational conglomerates. In 2012 Apple and Motorola (then owned by Google) attempted to prove claims that they had both invented certain tap-swipe gestures for unlocking smartphones. In a rare act, renowned intellectual property lawyer Richard Posner actually threw out the case on the grounds that these patents described the act of drawing basic geometry (e.g. a point is a “zero length line”), and proclaimed that the resources spent by both companies on the case were in conflict with the public interest. Only 2 years later this dismissal was in-effect overturned by another Federal court, and the nitpicking between the two companies  resumed. As with all law this debate largely stems on the philosophic discrepancies between jurists. This again, is nothing new, and over the last century we’ve explored the meaning of patents. While much is left to debate, I feel it is fair to say these legal concepts serve two purposes-

•Protection of the inventor in question during their lifetime to recoup finances spent on their invention

•A time delay for the public, ultimately allowing the common market to benefit from this idea after it has existed for some period of time

Some things that are less clearly defined however, include-

•What ideas/objects shouldn’t be patented, what constitutes this exception?

•When should a patent expire, how long are its protections meant to apply?

This issue has only been further complicated by the digital commons, in that authorship still exists and the crime of piracy is not victim-less, but for every time that a digital work is duplicated, no significant resources are stolen by virtue of its creation. This has only complicated matters for patentholders as the manufacturing process that is 3D printing has become so versatile that almost any manner of machine For all intents and purposes, there is a relatively limitless amount of computing space for a copy of a work to manifest, the copy is truly identical to the original in that the code that goes into the file is identical down to every character.

With the emergence of new technologies, we’ve witnessed sweeping decisions by lawmakers and the Supreme Court alike. In this 6 part series I will be covering everything from the historic precedence of patent laws, copyright laws, and their extension, to recent developments in the last decade. This includes the recent creation of furniture patents in the EU, in response to the growing popularity of 3D printers, as well as the patent of genetics, and the Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. case where the SCOTUS ruled that naturally occurring genetic sequences could not be patented. Through this critical inquiry I hope to better understand where patent laws have largely worked, where they have failed, how they have changed in this country’s history, and what this may mean for policy in the future.

The Holyoke Opera House

One thing I’ve come to enjoy about Holyoke is its rich history in the performing arts. In its prime the City had several theaters, one of which is currently being refurbished for use as a performing arts center.

Most others did not survive the decades of decline in the 20th century, but one such building has left a wealth of information and artifacts in its wake. This building was the Holyoke Opera House.

Rendering of the front of the opera house, as rendered in the American Architect and Building News.

Completed in 1878 through the patronage of William Whiting, one of the City’s paper magnates, the Opera House was built alongside the Windsor Hotel on the corner’s of Dwight and Front St adjacent to the First Level Canal.

The architect was one Mr. C[harles?] S. Luce, whose Romanesque work seems to have graced several cities in New England during the latter half of the 19th century.

The Windsor Hotel as it appeared with the Holyoke Opera House attached at its rear wall. While both buildings were constructed in 1877, the Hotel itself proved short-lived as it burned down in 1899.

Ultimately both buildings succumbed to fire, but while the Hotel fell in 1899, the Opera House didn’t come under the wrecking ball until 1967- leaving behind a century of theatrical productions. The opera house celebrated its opening night sometime in April of 1878 with a production of Louis XI, starring an actor named John Albaugh, and the noteworthy leading lady Ada Rehan, prior to her rise to national fame.

The House held enough space for an audience of 1400 people, and its stage, being 91′ across by 52′ high, was reportedly the second largest in New England at the time of its construction. To view some of the architectural elements of the opera house in greater detail, click on the highlighted areas in the image below-

Over the years the theatre changed hands a number of times, opened under management of the Chase Brothers, and subsequently one B.L. Potter, and later the Goldstein Bros. Amusement Company. By the mid-20th century the building had changed names several times, with its last iteration being the “E.W. Loews State Theater”.

An advertisement for the Holyoke Opera House from “Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide [for] 1902”, when the theatre was under the managership of B.L. Potter, who was formerly a landlord for the Windsor Hotel.
Though it has gone the way of vaudeville, entering in the annals of American history, its memory still persists in the minds of many to this day.

Box Seats in the Holyoke Opera House