Fourth Inventory of U.S. Virgin Islands’ Forests

Inventory expanding to include urban forests and National Woodland Owner Survey

The fourth FIA inventory in the USVI will begin soon — and it is expanding to include urban forests. Photo by Matt Wade, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons used under CC3.0 license.

The forest and urban inventory in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is expanding. Through its Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA), the USDA Forest Service has collected data in the USVI since the mid-1990s.

FIA data on trees, soils, and other forest characteristics have been critical in establishing a baseline and understanding trends of forest dynamics for the islands.

FIA will start collecting forest field measurements on permanent inventory plots in the forests of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix in February. The plots were established in 2004, and the information is used to assess the sustainability of forest management practices, evaluate wildlife habitat, chart the effects of hurricanes and other disturbances, and support forest planning and decision-making.

The USVI Department of Agriculture is a critical partner in this effort. They will contact forest landowners before the FIA field crews knock on doors, requesting access to plots which are on private land.

The FIA survey is designed to have no impact on how landowners use their property.

For the first time, the FIA National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS) will be conducted in USVI. The NWOS provides information on who owns forests and woodlands and why they own them, as well as how they use them, what they intend to do with them, and how such factors change over time. The survey will be sent to a representative sample of private forest landowners in May 2020.

IITF has helped with reforestation efforts in the USVI and Puerto Rico after extensive damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino, courtesy of the FEMA Photo Library.

“Implementing the NWOS in the USVI will provide information on the islands’ forest landowners and how they view and use their forested lands, what motivates and moderates their land use decisions, and what role they play in forest conservation and recovery,” says Kathleen McGinley, a research social scientist with the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF).

McGinley and colleagues with FIA, the Family Forest Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the USVI Department of Agriculture, and other local partners will jointly conduct the survey. The survey results will complement forest field measurements.

This year, plots in urban areas will also be sampled. The urban inventory monitors trees within built-up settings. Urban trees help people manage stormwater runoff while providing cleaner air and more beautiful living spaces, among other ecosystem services.

“Together, the recurring forest inventory, urban tree assessment, and woodland owner survey bring key information that all stakeholders can use to for managing the forests and urban trees of the Virgin Islands,” says Humfredo Marcano-Vega, research biologist and resource analyst for Puerto Rico and the USVI.

Researchers expect the inventory to take seven to eight months. Scientists will use the data to track changes in forest cover, land use patterns, biological diversity, and hurricane damage and recovery. The USVI forest inventory is part of the larger 85-year effort by FIA to collect, analyze, and report information on the status and trends of America’s forests.

Reports on the previous three inventories are available:

For more information, email Tom Brandeis at

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