Ohio’s Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity Being Adapted for New York State

Published Feb. 26, 2016
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District Mitigation Banking Coordinator Mark Gronceski has teamed up with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Wetland Ecology Group (WEG) to adapt OEPA’s Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity “Floristic Quality” (VIBI-FQ) tool for use in New York State.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District Mitigation Banking Coordinator Mark Gronceski has teamed up with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Wetland Ecology Group (WEG) to adapt OEPA’s Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity “Floristic Quality” (VIBI-FQ) tool for use in New York State.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District Mitigation Banking Coordinator Mark Gronceski has teamed up with Brian Gara at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Wetland Ecology Group (WEG) to adapt OEPA’s Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity “Floristic Quality” (VIBI-FQ) tool for use in New York State.

VIBI-FQ is used in the state of Ohio to monitor the progress of wetland restoration projects and is used to set performance goals which gauge how well a restored or created wetland mimics a high quality natural wetland.  The New York Interagency Review Team (IRT) for Mitigation Banks and In-lieu Fee (ILF) Mitigation Programs, which includes both the Buffalo and New York Districts as well as other federal and state agencies, has decided to adapt the VIBI-FQ developed in Ohio for use on mitigation bank and ILF sites in New York.

Currently in New York State there is no commonly accepted method for assessing wetland quality, so the question is, can Ohio’s methodology be adapted for New York?

To answer this question we must first understand how the tool assesses wetlands across Ohio.

“The VIBI-FQ is based exclusively on the principle of vegetation species’ habitat sensitivity. Two metrics are used to calculate an overall habitat quality score. These metrics focus on diversity and dominance as they relate to species’ “coefficient of conservatism” (C of C) values,” says Gronceski.

C of C values range from 0 to 10 and relate to the narrowness or breadth of a species’ habitat preferences.  Lower C of C scores are indicative of a species tolerant to areas of substantial degradation; higher scores are reserved for more sensitive species intolerant of disturbance and therefore only found in higher quality wetlands.

Certain species are known to exhibit varying degrees of conservatism over their range. For example, Populus balsamifera (Balsam poplar), at the edge of its range in Ohio, has a lower C of C value in Ohio than it does in New York, near the heart of its range. Therefore, C of C values should be region or state specific, and a draft C of C list is available in New York State.

Since New York has its own C of C list, it is possible to use VIBI-FQ in New York; however, to best set numerical goals to be achieved by mitigation wetlands, the state’s wetlands should be used to further calibrate  the VIBI-FQ tool for use in New York. This means vegetation surveys should be completed for dozens, if not hundreds, of wetlands across the state.

Mark Gronceski, along with USACE Buffalo District Biologist Peter Krakowiak, and USACE Vegetation Subject Matter Specialists Melissa Tarasiewicz and Kathleen Buckler, have begun the calibration of the VIBI tool for use in New York State.

This is a labor-intensive endeavor that involves 4-5 hours spent in a single wetland identifying each and every plant species growing in a 20 meter by 50 meter standardized plot. To add perspective, surveys from about 300 natural wetlands in Ohio are included in that state’s considerable database. So Gronceski and his small team have a long way to go to bring the New York dataset up to par with Ohio.

“The initial aim is to gather enough New York data to compare VIBI score ranges from New York wetlands to VIBI score ranges from Ohio wetlands,” says Gronceski.

Based on data gathered in the summers of 2015 and 2016, the New York IRT will begin using the VIBI-FQ in the monitoring of New York State’s newest mitigation bank: the restoration of an inland salt marsh in the northern Finger Lakes region, and on future in-lieu fee mitigation sites.

“Identifying the vast diversity of plant species and their habitat sensitivity across a breadth of wetlands in New York State will allow us to adapt the VIBI-FQ for use in New York, which will provide a valuable method to assess the quality of New York state wetlands,” says Tarasiewicz.

 

VIBI-FQ provides New York State with the first standardized, numerical tool that can be used for assessing wetland quality. The development of this tool will benefit the regulated community by bringing increased consistency and predictability to the area of wetland mitigation monitoring. Efforts such as these improve the overall scientific integrity and furthers the goals of the Regulatory Program.