Using BioFinder

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Using BioFinder

Identifying Local Ecological Priorities: A Suggested Process

Step 1 Locate Landscape Priorities>>Step 2 Locate Species and Community Priorities>>Step 3  Identify the Components>>Next Steps

BioFInder presents such a wide breadth of information that it can be difficult to determine just what to do with it all. Protecting all areas highlighted by all INVENTORY maps simply isn't feasible in many situations. Is it more important to focus on habitat for wide-ranging species, or clean water? Vernal pools, or rare physical landscapes? Clearly, all are ecologically important, but they are important for different reasons, and they are compatible with different activities.

The PRIORITIZATION theme is presented so that users don't need to value components against one another but can instead focus on priority locations. This set of maps takes into account that—for example--safe wildlife road crossings are important only if high-quality habitat remains on either side of the road. A wetland or lake loses value if the stream flowing into it is impaired.

Because this technique of holistically examining the landscape still covers substantial acreage, we have created a step by step process that can be used to identify the best locations for a conservation, development, or land use change project.

Mapping Vermont's Natural Heritage is a guide for land use planning that talks you through taking inventory of the local landscape, assigning priorities, and developing conservation strategies. In this guide, the same six step process outlined in Using BioFinder can be found in Part 2. The guide's Part 1, outlines how to use BioFinder to access the raw, not-prioritized, inventory information useful for land use planning.

Step 1: Locate Landscape Priorities

landscape priorities

Let's start with the big stuff: the forest networks, the waterways, and the physical landforms that support them. These are the building blocks for nearly all ecological processes.By outlining these, we can effectively and efficiently paint a picture of the locations most needed to maintain ecological function.

  • Open the BioFinder map and make sure the PRIORITIZATION theme is selected. 
  • Double click on your area of interest to zoom in, and continue this process until you can see the entire area at the closest range possible. 
  • Make sure that the box next to "Vermont Conservation Design—Landscape Scale Components" is checked. Click the box first next to "Highest Priority," and then the box next to "Priority." Highest Priority locations will appear in dark green, and Priority locations will appear in light green. Those areas on which you can still see the background aerial photo lack priority and highest priority known ecological components.

Together, the locations outlined provide a foundation upon which the majority of local ecological interactions occur, like the stage and set of a theater production. This foundation must be kept intact for ecological function to continue at its current level. However, these areas span broad acreage across the state.

While highly ecologically important, these lands also make up much of Vermont's working and rural landscape. While large-scale development or intensive human land use can diminish the ecological function of these areas, many human activities and land uses can be compatible when conducted appropriately.

Step 2: Locate Species and Community Priorities

While landscape priorities give us the framework within which most ecological interactions occur, important pieces are missing when we consider species or species assemblages with specialized needs. Chosen because of their importance to species and communities of conservation concern in Vermont, the specialized habitat components mapped at this scale are often small in area but are just as important in maintaining regional biodiversity.

For example, wildlife crossings are locations where wide-ranging mammal species such as bear, bobcat, and fisher are most likely to traverse roads as they travel to meet their daily or seasonal dietary needs or disperse to find mates. If these crossing areas do not remain available, animals that use them may not be able to persist even when other habitat requirements are present.

To see species and community priorities:

  • Make sure that the box next to "Species and Community Scale Components" is checked. 
  • Click the box first next to "Highest Priority," and then the box next to "Priority." Highest Priority locations will appear in dark purple, and Priority locations will appear in light purple. Those areas without either shade of purple lack priority and highest priority known ecological components.

Because they are generally small in size, species and community priorities are often quite vulnerable. For some components, a seemingly minor change in land use could wipe out an entire patch of habitat—a vernal pool, for example, or a mast stand.

And although these components themselves may cover little acreage, the processes altered by a single loss may change food webs, impact disease regimes, or alter migration or dispersal patterns across the ecosystem. While we label components in both Steps 1 and 2 as "priority" and "high priority," species and community priorities have different implications, both ecological and regulatory, than landscape priorities.

Step 3: Identify the Components

Now, we can identify which components contribute to priority and high priority locations, since there are different implications for development and land use related to each component.

  • Use your cursor to point to a specific location of interest. Click once on that location. A box will pop up on the screen that tells you which Species and Community Scale priorities are present in that spot, with a check indicating presence and an "x" indicating absence.
  • Click on the right arrow in the top, right-hand corner of the box to see a second page. This will show you the priorities present at the Landscape Scale.
  • Repeat this process for all locations of interest.

If you would like to identify all the components within a particular area of interest—a town, for example, or a single parcel, you can also run a component report. This tool will allow you to use a drawing tool to outline your target area, then generate a list of components present in that area and their associated acreages.

Start with the locations marked as "highest priority" from both Steps 1 and 2. See which components are present in those "highest priority" areas. Interior forest blocks? Wildlife Crossings?   See Tips & Tricks for specific instructions.

In some locations, you will find more than one priority component present. In these cases, take note! These may be ecological hotspots—places in which many important ecological features co-occur. Wetlands are important. Interior forests are important. Rare physical features are important—etc. Locations in which all of these (or other) important components are present may have even higher ecological value than those with just one component.

The next step is to learn about these components and their implications for land use.

You can also learn more about each of these components by reading the "Component Abstracts" accessible when you click on a point of interest.

component abstract

Next Steps

If you are a Land Use Planner: Visit Mapping Vermont's Natural Heritage  for additional suggestions. This guide follows the same basic process outlined above but includes more detailed information and additional steps, moving from taking inventory of the local landscape, assigning priorities, and developing conservation strategies.

The basic process includes:

Prioritizing Ecological Function
     Step 1. Locate priorities at the landscape scale.
     Step 2. Locate priorities at the species and natural community scale.
     Step 3. Identify the important component features.
Including Community Values
     Step 4. Identify areas of high public value.
Developing and Choosing Options
     Step 5. Establish a range of options
     Step 6. Evaluate options and choose strategies