Across the nation, USDA Forest Inventory and Analysis collects data on forest ecosystems, including soils, microbes, land ownership, carbon, invasive plants, and of course, trees.
Every two years, experts from the U.S. and beyond gather to share their knowledge. The 2019 FIA Stakeholders Science Meeting was held in Knoxville, Tennessee from November 19-21. The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement co-sponsored the event.
Approximately 300 participants representing over 60 institutions and 20 countries gathered for the meeting. Scientists from universities, industry, government agencies, non-governmental agencies, and other countries presented papers on more than 200 different topics.
FIA has operated as the nation’s forest census since 1930. “We have a tremendous amount of data,” says Christopher Oswalt. Oswalt, an SRS FIA research forester, led the planning team that organized the 2019 meeting.
“We engage with our customers,” says Oswalt. “We try to provide data in the way they want it.”
A digital engagement session showcased that sentiment with 30 tools built with FIA data. “The digital engagement session is like a poster session for tools and applications,” says Bill Burkman, FIA regional program lead.
Attendees saw the tools and used them, while interacting with the people who built them. “They immediately find all the bugs,” says Ted Ridley, an FIA ecologist who built a tool to visualize invasive plant data. Other tools included My City’s Trees, the Southern Timber Supply Analysis (developed by partners at Texas A&M Forest Service), and a suite of tools developed in partnership with ESRI, a global leader in GIS.
“Tables can be hard to interpret,” says Charles Hobie Perry, who demonstrated BIGMAP. “But provide a map and people intuitively understand it.”
Just as before, at the 2017 FIA meeting in Park City, Utah, the digital engagement session was hugely popular. “The hotel had to kick us out,” says Oswalt. “We were scheduled for two hours and went for three.”
In her plenary speech, Ann Bartuska praised the session. Bartuska previously served as the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for research, education, and economics. Other plenary speakers on days two and three were Andrew Haight, an economist at the U.S. Census Bureau, Healy Hamilton of NatureServ, Sharon Stanton of PNW FIA, and Mark Rosenberg of CalFire.
At the plenary on the first day, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Jim Hubbard spoke. He was joined by Alex Friend, the Forest Service deputy chief for research and development. “FIA is universally appreciated,” says Friend. “Their emphasis on customer service is core to that.”
FIA data are widely used across the Forest Service. Every deputy area – State and Private Forestry, Research, and the National Forest System – was represented at the meeting. Every research station was represented. Forest Service researchers use FIA data for multiple purposes, from basic research to building tools for state and local forestry agencies. For example, Steve Norman, Bill Christie, and partners at NEMAC are combining FIA data with satellite imagery to develop better, faster tools for assessing forest damage after tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires.
The meeting topics included advances in carbon estimation, damage assessments, disturbances, ecology, geospatial analysis, methods, modeling advances, partnerships, timber supply analysis, tools, urban forests, wildfire prediction, and more.
New approaches to classic programs like the Timber Products Output and National Woodland Owners Survey were also discussed. Urban versions of the TPO and NWOS are now included in the Urban FIA Program, which is itself a new program.
Greg Frey and John Schelhas were among the almost 20 SRS researchers who spoke at the meeting. Frey and his colleagues used NWOS data to examine participation in state property tax programs across the U.S. As the NWOS expands to better represent Native American family forest owners, Schelhas and his team are helping to ensure that the expansion honors treaty rights and respects each independent tribal nation and their cultures.
“FIA data are a wonderful resource,” says Kevin Potter. Potter, Qinfeng Guo, and Kurt Riitters, both of whom also presented at the meeting, are using FIA data to answer broad-scale ecological questions about threats to forest resources, particularly those posed by non-native invasive plants, insects, and diseases.
As threats, information needs, and technologies evolve, so do FIA damage assessment protocols. KaDonna Randolph discussed how protocols have been revised over time and showed how historic protocols highlight natural resource issues of the past, such as naval stores.
FIA’s impact goes beyond the continental U.S. Urban FIA inventories are being conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as Tom Brandeis reported. And, in a project initiated by the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub, Humfredo Marcano-Vega used FIA protocols in a study on wood salvage in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Internationally, FIA supports forest inventory activities in Peru, Tanzania, Vietnam, Zambia, and many other countries. Forestry experts from more than ten countries participated in an urban field demonstration. “It was a valuable discussion,” says Kerry Dooley. “We all have shared challenges, such as keeping up with technology, maintaining programs over time, and engaging with stakeholders and partners.”
Forest inventories provide key data for assessing the status, trends, and sustainability of the nation’s forests.
“My intent is for Forest Service research to enhance the rigor and impact of the agency,” says Friend. “In order to do that you have to have the inventory.”
For more information, email Chris Oswalt at firstname.lastname@example.org.