Biofinder: A Tool for Identifying Wildlife Hotspots
In response to Vermont citizen inquiries about what wildlife or habitat was important in their town, or where they should focus their conservation efforts and from developers wanting to know where they could site energy generation facilities, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, along with numerous partners, established and implemented the Natural Resources Mapping Project. The result of this effort was Biofinder, a map and database identifying important ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, natural communities, habitats, and species throughout Vermont. Biofinder aimed to synthesize Vermont's biological diversity into map form, and to make the information widely available. A total of 21 components were classified as contributors to biodiversity for the purposes of this mapping project. These components were further broken down in to three categories: landscape (9), aquatics (3), or species and natural communities (9). Next, in order to create the Tiered Contribution to Biodiversity dataset, these components were weighted based on their relative importance, and then overlaid on the landscape to assess co-occurrence of the components. The resulting Tiered Contribution to Biodiversity dataset displays the relative concentration of biodiversity across the state. The concentrations are displayed in a tiered format ranging from 1-6, with Tier 1 being the greatest concentration of components to Tier 6 being insufficient data.
Forest Land, Inventory, Land Management, Land Protection, water, wetland, wildlife
This project's ultimate accomplishment is the Biofinder online mapping tool. Since its release, Biofinder has been used by state and regional agencies, municipalities, developers and organizations to help with conservation and land-use decision making. In using this tool, planners can assess how development may impact rare species, natural communities, and other important contributors to biodiversity. This user-friendly database is able to inform the public of hotspots and depicts important places to conserve or protect. Additionally, this tool is used widely as an education resource which helps the public understand places of value or the location of rare species, knowledge which could be used in the future to carry out and promote land stewardship. Looking ahead, Biofinder will continue to evolve into an essential tool needed to secure Vermont's natural heritage in to the future.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
Vermont Forests, Parks & Recreation Department
Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
Lake Champlain Committee
The Nature Conservancy
University of Vermont
Vermont Center for Ecostudies
Vermont Center for Geographic Information
Vermont Land Trust
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service
The Wildlands Network
The partner collaboration involved in this project was one of the greatest components contributing to its success. This project involved some of the best experts in their field, which led to a representation of numerous, multi-disciplinary conservation perspectives. A great technical support team was essential to this effort. The leadership and commitment demonstrated by the multiple partners, the Agency of Natural Resources team, and the Steering Committee was critical to the success of Biofinder. Lastly, the project was supported greatly from funding received from Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
The actual structuring of the database proved to be challenging at times, as weighing and organizing the compiled datasets into a hierarchical system was a difficult task. However, the collaborative effort and many conservation perspectives made this phase of the project go smoothly considering the vast quantity of data and the scale of the project.