by William F. Galvin, Chronicle
HARWICH --- As town boards examine the creation of a District of Critical Planning Concern through the Cape Cod Commission Act, the coastal plain pond is becoming a centerpiece for discussion of the groundwater table and for the protection of rare species of plants and animals. When Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand came to Harwich in early March he visited Hawksnest Pond in East Harwich, citing the presence of several coastal plain ponds and stressing the need to protect the biodiversity that exists in and around those water bodies. With the protection already accorded more than 300 acres adjacent to Hawksnest and Oliver's ponds through acquisition of open space by both the town and commonwealth, Durand stated an interest in extending that protection through the purchase of more open space. "Habitat and rare species protection are high on his (Durand's) priority list," Kathy Sferra, a wetlands, natural resources and open space planner with the Cape Cod Commission, said this week. Sferra has been communicating with the Planning Board on the DCPC concept.
At that time, members of the Real Estate and Open Space Committee and the Planning Board began looking at the need for protecting the nearly 300 acres of undeveloped land around several of the ponds in that area, some of which have been designated coastal plain ponds. The need for such protection is in part the genesis of the DCPC concept. The Planning Board is also stressing open space acquisition as a planning tool in revised sections of the local comprehensive plan to ease development pressure on the town's infrastructure and reduce the population at build-out. There is growing interest in the protection of coastal plain ponds, according to conservation administrator Jane Harris. They are important because they contain plants and animals that are globally rare, she explained. These ponds are also a window on the groundwater. "We're beginning to look at coastal plain ponds with more scrutiny," explained Harris of the Conservation Commission's role in protecting these fragile resources. "We're trying to educate landowners about the value of these ponds."
Harris said the commission is in the process of developing regulations that may contain special mention or requirements for coastal plain ponds. The thrust is protecting the resource because of the rare plant and animal species and because they are directly related to the groundwater. Most of the coastal plain ponds in this state are located in Southeastern Massachusetts and more particularly in Barnstable and Plymouth counties. There may be different ways of measuring the number of coastal plain ponds based on the biodiversity. Sferra and Thomas Cambareri, a water resource scientist with the Cape Cod Commission, said virtually all the ponds on the Cape are coastal plain ponds. However, according to Harris, The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program with the state Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement further defines those ponds. Both Harris and Sferra say the refined definition is likely based on the presence of rare plant and animal species on some of those ponds. Harris said there are six such ponds located in Harwich and three of which would be contained in the initial DCPC description identified by the town's Planning Department.
These ponds were formed more than 10,000 years ago when glaciers melted, creating holes in the sand which filled up with water. The deeper holes that reach into the water table are known as kettle ponds, while the shallow kettle ponds which are known for supporting unique pond and shore plant life are called coastal plain ponds, according to a booklet entitled Treasures of Our natural Heritage published by the endangered species program. "When you look at the coastal plain pond, you are actually looking at the water table, or an exposed part of the aquifer," according to that booklet.. These ponds provide a habitat for at least 43 rare animals and plants and several of these plants are globally rare. Among the flowers likely to be found are the Plymouth Gentian and its smaller look-alike Pink Tickseed, Golden Pert and sticky sundews are also likely to inhabit the area.