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1. BioFinder Themes: Inventory and Prioritization
BioFinder categorizes all information into two "themes:" Inventory and Prioritization. Each theme includes a separate list of map information that can be displayed or turned off as desired. The default theme, entitled Prioritization, appears when you first open the map tool, but an Inventory theme is also available. Change the theme through the pulldown menu at the top, left corner of the screen, under the word "Layers."
2. Inventory Theme
This theme answers the question, "What's here?"
The "Inventory" theme presents basic information about the location of features often used in conservation planning. "Inventory" information has not been interpreted in any way. It represents the raw data upon which the Prioritization Theme is based. This allows a user to explore the breadth of ecological components at play on a local or regional landscape.
If you explore the maps in the order presented, you will find yourself beginning with broad, landscape patterns in Maps 1 and 2, then zooming in to see increasing detail. For more information about any of the maps, please see Mapping Vermont's Natural Heritage (available Spring 2017), a guide to using maps for Land Use Planning. This guide provides detailed information about how each map and map layer in the Inventory theme can be appropriately interpreted for use at a municipal level.
The maps include:
>> Conservation Base Map
This map provides a snapshot of the landscape, frozen in time. It's not intended to be studied in detail; instead, its goal is to provide background information. The most prominent dataset outlines conserved land—land on which development has been permanently restricted through either a conservation easement or purchase by a conservation entity. Also depicted are waterways, roads, and town boundaries. In some communities, parcel boundaries are available.
These layers can be left on as you view other Inventory maps, thereby allowing you to see roads and political boundaries along with any other dataset, or to determine which inventory features are located on conserved land.
>> Land Cover
This map is useful at a broad scale for seeing patterns of natural land cover and land use. At a statewide scale, it is beneficial for picking out large urban areas, agricultural areas, wetland complexes, and forested areas. More locally, these data can be used to locate forested blocks, predict where wildlife with wide home ranges may be able to travel through the landscape, and see where patterns of development may hinder wildlife movement. They can also be used to distinguish hardwood forests from softwood and mixed forests, which can be helpful in predicting locations of natural communities and wildlife species.
Like Map 1, land cover information isn't intended to capture individual processes or species; it tells, very simply, what covers the ground at the present time.
>> Forest Pattern
When considering wildlife on the local landscape, broad-scale vegetation patterns can be quite revealing. The degree to which forests are connected or separated has implications both for where wildlife will be and which wildlife are present. This concept of connectivity is particularly important in the face of climate change; maintaining connected pathways of natural vegetation across the landscape is considered a critical strategy for adapting to a changing climate, allowing animals and plants to disperse to locations that provide favorable conditions.
This map shows where blocks of undeveloped land are located, organized by size. It shows where the vegetated banks of streams, rivers, and lakes form continuous pathways in which wildlife can move. Finally, it shows grasslands and shrublands. These may be contained within larger habitat blocks, or they may appear isolated. Either way, there is an important assemblage of species that rely on these open fields or young stands for their survival.
>> Physical Features
Physical landscapes are the parts of the landscape that resist change. They are the hills and valleys, the underlying bedrock, and the deposits left behind by glaciers or ancient lakes. They remain largely static when natural or human-induced changes in land cover and wildlife occur, as plants and animals expand or contract their ranges, and even as the climate changes.
Because of the strong influence of the physical landscape on which plants, animals, and natural communities appear and thrive, understanding the physical landscape can help us predict habitat conditions and species presence. Physically diverse landscapes support diverse natural communities and species, and so one way to ensure that biological diversity persists on our landscape is to conserve a variety of physical landscapes.
Water is an important resource for both wildlife and human communities. While not particularly scarce in the Northeast, water-based ecosystems can be both highly valued and highly vulnerable. In addition to the surface water information included on other maps, this map includes wetlands, vernal pools, riparian areas, representative lakes, and exemplary surface waters. Additionally, you can see the locations of bridges, culverts, and other stream crossing areas. This information has ecological implications but can also be helpful in determining safe and effective locations for human activities.
With the exception of confirmed vernal pools, the information on this map is not intended to be accurate at a fine scale. However, it gives an excellent overall picture of where water appears on the landscape.
>> Species & Natural Communities
This map includes many important datasets that represent the habitats and locations of individual species or natural communities (groups of species that tend to co-occur and interact). This includes both individual occurrences, such as with rare species or significant natural communities, and also more general habitat features such as wildlife crossings—the locations where bear, bobcat, and other wide-ranging species are most likely to crossroads as they travel to meet daily or seasonal dietary needs, disperse to find mates, or fulfill other requirements.
As you look at this map, you can imagine zooming in from the other Inventory maps to examine details of the landscape. With the exception of Habitat Blocks, all layers can be analyzed down to the level of an individual parcel. While the boundaries of the Habitat Blocks layer are not accurate at this scale, these data provide an element of statewide perspective.
Please keep in mind that while appropriate at a local scale, these datasets aren't comprehensive. For example, a mark depicting a rare species is spatially accurate, but the absence of a rare species marker is not a definite sign that there are no rare species present, because the entire state has never been inventoried for all rare species. Local inventory information could greatly enhance a community's knowledge of local resources.
3. Prioritization Theme
This theme helps you find and highlight the locations of highest ecological importance.
The "Prioritization" theme identifies ecological priorities based on their contribution to regional ecological function—the ability of habitats, plants and animals to interact as needed in order to thrive, reproduce, migrate, and move, even as the climate changes. This theme considers important components at two scales—the Landscape-scale (large blocks of forest, water networks, etc.) and the "Species and Community" scale (individual wetlands, wildlife road crossings, vernal pools, etc.).
Landscape-scale data are also referred to as Vermont Conservation Design. All the components in this theme are significant to the State's biological diversity and represent the most important subset of the ecological elements included in "Inventory.
4. Component Layers
While the Vermont Conservation Design and Species and Community Scale maps compile and prioritize numerous datasets, this section allows you to see each component individually. These components have been divided into two groups, to mirror the prioritized datasets above. Species and Community Scale Components were those prioritized to create the Species and Community Scale layer, and Vermont Conservation Design—Landscape Scale Components were compiled in the creation of the prioritized layer of the same name.
By exploring the component layers, you can discover why different locations received the priority ranking they did and get a better understanding of the suite of important ecological activities at play across the landscape.
Identifying Local Ecological Priorities: A Suggested Process
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
et'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 an 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 the 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.
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|