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BioFinder is a database and mapping tool for identifying Vermont's lands and waters supporting high priority ecosystems, natural communities, habitats, and species. The current version, BioFinder 2016, highlights the interconnected network of forests, streams and physical landscape features that are at the heart of Vermont's landscape.
By simply clicking anywhere on the map, BioFinder's MapTips gives you a quick snapshot of a particular location by providing the priority rank and a list of all the contributing components present (with links to detailed information about each). A suite of drawing tools allows you to mark-up and annotate maps to meet your needs. The Landscape Report and Species and Community Report tools produce documents you can export (as pdf or MS Excel documents) for the location you are interested in. For the greatest insight into a location it is important to understand both the overall priority rank as well as each of the components present.
Data used in creating BioFinder are current as of 2016, but individual data sets may have been updated since and are available at the ANR Natural Resources Atlas. BioFinder's 22 components contributing to biological diversity do not represent all available natural resource data that are important for understanding Vermont's environment. Moreover, BioFinder and the information it contains is not intended to replace environmental consultation, land-use and other permitting, or the need for on-the-ground, site-specific evaluations.
One of BioFinder's primary aims was to help renewable energy developers and others interested gathering information about potential large-scale developments in Vermont. No web-based tool can assess all the possible impacts on wildlife and other natural elements from all types of developments in all locations, but BioFinder is an excellent resource for a "first-cut" desktop suitability assessment. BioFinder tools can identify areas where there would be negative impacts to rare species, natural communities, unfragmented and undeveloped habitat blocks, and other important areas.
Priority rankings, as shown in the Prioritization Theme show something of the ecological importance of that component but it is important to understand what that means at each scale. "Highest Priority" at the landscape scale shows ecological important lands that need to be managed for ecological function but there is a wide variety of land uses that could occur there and meet those goals. Highest Priority at the species scale, by contrast, occurs in a much smaller area and often involves rare, threatened and endangered species that may trigger significant environmental review.
It is important to assess the possible effects on each of the natural resource features at any site. BioFinder brings many of these features together so you can consider possible effects on each feature in advance of a site inventory. Although it does not offer regulatory predictability, BioFinder does offer a sense of the number and importance of various ecological components that might have regulatory implications. A site that is ranked "Highest Priority" in several Landscape, community, and species scale components, for example, is likely to have quite a few issues that a development review would need to address. By figuring out what suite of components are at play within and nearby a proposed development, you'll have a better understanding of what issues will be addressed in development review.
The BioFinder maps and reports can be easily incorporated into municipal, regional, transportation, and other plans.
In looking at the Prioritization Theme, planners can see the relative concentrations of the components contributing to biodiversity within an area thus giving a broad, biologically inclusive, overview of an area. For example, BioFinder could identify an area where there is a high concentration of unfragmented habitat or rare species. This kind of quick assessment can also help planners identify "hotspots" — locations where multiple components of biological diversity overlap — as well as patterns of biological diversity across a landscape. Identifying these hotspots and patterns can help set priorities — the foundation of good conservation planning.
Mapping Vermont's Natural Heritage (available Summer of 2017) outlines the specific steps for land use planners in understanding these data and resources.
BioFinder offers the scientific community a comprehensive look at how the components of biological diversity are distributed spatially, and how they occur together in interesting combinations. We suggest starting with the components independently and building an understanding of how the tiers were created from these pieces. The BioFinder Development Report goes into greater detail about the methods used in creating the tool and provides other background information that may be helpful.
BioFinder also provides insight into habitat connectivity at different scales and how those connections relate to blocks of unfragmented habitat across the state. Users can drill down into results to see how riparian corridors, rare species occurrences, and important aquatic features intersect with say landscape features.
As an educational tool, BioFinder can enhance students' understanding of our state's rich natural heritage. Students can choose to explore biodiversity in their own community or in an area in another part of the state. In a course that focuses on animal habitat, for example, students can look for habitat that is connected and determine whether that area could support a wide-ranging mammal like the black bear. Students can identify locations where there are rare species within the state and then study the different components that it make possible for a particular species to survive. Learning how biodiversity components are interconnected will also bring students insight into how ecosystems work.
Working with the map itself also offers students a technological opportunity to learn about topography and geographic information systems (GIS) and about how to capture and manipulate information that is presented in layers. The BioFinder reports are excellent tool in teaching how data can be produced and analyzed