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Frequently asked questions about BioMetric

Can an assessor advise a landholder of the likely outcome of their proposal without undertaking a full assessment using BioMetric?

Yes. Once an assessor becomes familiar with BioMetric, they should be able to predict the general outcome of the assessment before running the tool, which will save considerable time.

The assessor should think through the proposal using a three-step process.

Step 1

Understand the rules for vegetation that cannot be cleared, that is, Mitchell Landscapes or vegetation types that are more than 70 per cent cleared, and threatened ecological communities that are not in a low condition.

Step 2

Consider the three 'maintain or improve' tests for site, regional and landscapes scales, and the fact that offsets are provided as follows:

  • for vegetation types that are more than 70 per cent cleared, offsets must be provided of vegetation types of equal or greater regional value (the conservation status of the vegetation type) to the vegetation proposed for clearing, or
  • for vegetation types that are less than or equal to 70 per cent cleared, offsets must be provided of vegetation types of equal or greater regional value to the vegetation proposed for clearing, or vegetation types that have been cleared up to 10 per cent less than the vegetation proposed for clearing, and
  • the offset must result in gains in landscape value (the configuration of vegetation) equal to or greater than losses from clearing, and
  • there must be gains in site value (based on the quality and quantity of vegetation) equal to or greater than losses from clearing.

Step 3
Assess whether the proposal is likely to improve or maintain environmental outcomes, by obtaining as much detail as possible from the landholder. If the landholder cannot identify the potential vegetation types that are the subject of the proposal, use the Native Vegetation Assessment Tool (NVAT) Mapper to undertake a quick desktop analysis. Decide if the vegetation type is an endangered ecological community, and whether it is likely to meet the definition of vegetation in low condition.

If the proposal is likely to not be approved, work out whether the result can be feasibly changed. For example, if the proposal causes a break in connectivity, can it be offset?

Should an assessor use the clearing module in BioMetric, the thinning module in BioMetric, or the Invasive Native Scrub Tool?

The assessor must decide whether the species to be cleared meet the definition of 'invasive native scrub' (see Managing invasive native scrub information sheet) or whether they meet the criteria for 'thinning within benchmark' as outlined in the BioMetric Operational Manual (Version 3.1, updated June 2013) (PDF 6MB) The thinning module in BioMetric allows thinning down to a number of stems in specified size classes. Stem density benchmarks must generally be assessed using appropriate reference plots.

Some species in some catchment management authority areas can be managed using either system.

If neither criterion is met, the proposal should be defined as 'thinning below benchmark', or clearing, and be assessed as a clearing proposal by BioMetric and the other NVAT tools.

What should assessors do when the description for the Mitchell Landscape in the NVAT Mapper does not match the proposal area?

Use the NVAT Mapper to identify the Mitchell Landscapes near the proposal area, especially if the proposal is located near a landscape boundary. Check the Mitchell Landscape definitions in BioMetric by using the 'Reference Data Help Files' button to ensure that the correct Mitchell Landscape is selected in BioMetric for each zone, that is, the definition matches the observed landscape features. If a more suitable Mitchell Landscape type is identified for any zone, this type should be selected from the drop-down menu, and a note made of this alteration in the PADACS (PVPs, agreements, data and customer service) file for auditing purposes.

Why doesn't BioMetric use vegetation maps?

There is no consistent mapping of vegetation across NSW or its catchments, nor is there any consistent classification of vegetation across NSW or its catchments at the resolution required for assessing clearing and incentive proposals in BioMetric.

Consequently, the vegetation types in BioMetric were compiled based on the best available data for each catchment (click on the 'Reference Data Help Files' button in BioMetric for a list of sources). Only sources that provided percentage-cleared estimates could be used, regardless of whether a spatially explicit vegetation map accompanied these data. The best available data rather than vegetation maps were used as:

  • regions with poor coverage by vegetation maps are not then disadvantaged
  • most vegetation maps are produced at too coarse a scale for property-scale identification of vegetation type, and as such typically miss many small vegetation patches
  • updating data is simpler, less expensive and less time consuming than producing vegetation maps for specific areas
  • property-scale vegetation maps across all NSW cannot be produced in the timeframe for current planning requirements, such as property vegetation planning under the Native Vegetation Act 2003
  • the list of vegetation types would have been significantly less comprehensive, with less reliable percentage-cleared data, had there been reliance only on vegetation maps.

More information on vegetation types and ways in which they are classified is available on the Datasets for BioMetric assessments page.

What should an assessor do when the vegetation type in a proposal area does not match any of the vegetation types listed for the relevant catchment management authority area in BioMetric?

The vegetation type(s) in a proposal area are identified in BioMetric using the drop-down list under the 'Reference Data Help Files' button. Select the vegetation type(s) closest to the vegetation at the site or that are likely to have originally occurred on the site pre-clearing or pre-1750. The vegetation type should be the original vegetation type on the site, not the derived vegetation type. Derived vegetation types can be selected only when the original vegetation types cannot be determined.

Assessors must ensure that the vegetation type(s) are selected on the basis of the full definition, not just the vegetation type name(s) in the drop-down menu. The information under the 'Reference Data Help Files' button on species composition of each structural layer, soils, landforms and so on has been collated to help assessors identify the appropriate vegetation type.  More detailed information regarding each vegetation type can be accessed in the VIS-Classification database.

The vegetation at some sites may not neatly fall within one of the listed vegetation types, because vegetation types change continuously across the landscape. Assessors will have to use informed judgement when deciding which vegetation type is present on a site, based on surrounding vegetation and the context of nearby landscape features such as soil, geology and topography.

Can assessors select the vegetation type first, and then work back to identifying the vegetation formation and Mitchell Landscape?

Yes, but this is not necessary. Mitchell Landscapes and vegetation formations can be identified with the help of definitions that are accessed under the 'Reference Data Help Files' button in BioMetric. The choice of vegetation formations and vegetation types is not limited by selecting a Mitchell Landscape, as a Mitchell Landscape is not a filter in BioMetric. As a result, 'working backwards' will make no difference to the list of vegetation types from which a selection can be made.

Why are there only ten site condition variables in BioMetric?

The list of ten site condition variables were derived by:

  • reviewing the literature for variables representing ecosystem composition, structure and function
  • removing variables that were highly correlated, such as bare ground and ground cover, and those that were hard to measure or not instructive for managers, such as litter weight
  • testing which variables were redundant in the scoring approach used.

The goal was to derive the minimum number of variables to describe the condition of sites, without having redundant variables.

Ongoing analysis is being undertaken to assess additional variables, and further refine this list, including assessing whether different condition variables are more appropriate for differing broad environment types or vegetation formations.

What do assessors do when the benchmarks for the relevant vegetation class from the BioMetric website are unavailable, or seem too broad for a particular vegetation type?

Benchmarks are currently based on vegetation classes described in Keith D 2004, Ocean shores to desert dunes: the native vegetation of New South Wales and the ACT. Vegetation classes often encompass a number of vegetation types, and do not always provide sufficiently precise benchmarks for condition variables for a particular vegetation type. Assessors are strongly encouraged to collect plot data at reference sites where specific data are unavailable, and to check the accuracy of the benchmarks provided, including where seasonal or climatic impacts may not be reflected in benchmarks. Reference plots can also be used to check and supplement benchmarks for individual condition variables. For example, if the assessor considers the benchmark range for the over-storey cover to be too broad for a particular vegetation type, three local reference plots or transects can be used to obtain over-storey cover benchmarks for the vegetation type. Please forward data sheets with benchmark data for reference sites to bionet@environment.nsw.gov.au.

Interim benchmarks for the BioMetric tool (PDF - 145KB) details the function of benchmarks how they were derived, and the use of reference sites, and should be read by all assessors.

Does BioMetric provide a scoring system for allocating biodiversity incentives?

Yes. The scoring system in BioMetric provides a rigorous and repeatable means of scoring proposals according to their benefit to biodiversity. Scores are based on:

  • the regional value of the vegetation type
  • the benefits for threatened species
  • the landscape and site values
  • the current biodiversity value of the site
  • the benefits to biodiversity of the proposed actions
  • the duration of commitment to the proposal.

The scoring system for biodiversity is based on predicted outcomes, not on actions. It can be used in tender schemes or reserve price mechanisms to pay landholders for conserving their land for biodiversity, as management of vegetation for biodiversity and revegetation are both scored.

Catchment management authorities are encouraged to enter their own priorities, such as riparian vegetation, into the regional value component of the scoring system.

Who can assessors contact for assistance?

For information or assistance, email BioMetric Help: bionet@environment.nsw.gov.au

Page last updated: 18 March 2015