Every year since 1930, scientists from across the USDA Forest Service team up with state agencies to survey the nation’s forests, as they have since 1930. The field crews are part of the Forest Inventory and Analysis program, or FIA, a national census of forest land and forest conditions. This massive campaign collects data on over 355,000 plots, on public and private lands, in rural and urban forests, across nine time zones, from Guam to the Caribbean territories. The result is a database with more than 20 million individual tree records.
In Alabama, for example, FIA crews staffed by the Alabama Forestry Commission visit about 700 plots (out of a total of around 5,600 plots) each year to collect data with the help of staff from the Southern Research Station’s FIA Program.
FIA field crews trudge through thick underbrush, climbing over and around vines and thorny branches. They work in the sweltering heat of summer and the rainy chill of fall and winter, all the while measuring, counting, and logging hundreds of features that describe the species, size, and health of trees on every plot.
The crews revisit these same plots every five to seven years in the East and every ten years in western states. These repeated measurements let scientists track changes in these forest area and conditions over time, and when combined with other plots, over space as well.
The sampling process has been continuously improved and often expanded to provide the most accurate, comprehensive, and timely assessments for state foresters, industry, consultants, conservation groups, universities, national forests, and the entire US citizenry.
“Our analysts summarize plot data at county, state, regional, and national scales to help answer a variety of forest resources questions,” says Christopher Oswalt, research forester with SRS FIA. “The summarized products put current estimates and estimates of change in the hands of decision makers and land managers.”
There’s a new version of the FIA state-level summary, also known as a resource update: the One-Click Factsheet. This new product is updated regularly, pulling in new survey data as often as they’re available, along with other FIA data sources like the Timber Products Output (TPO) and National Woodland Owner Survey.
The project has received the Chief’s and Under Secretary’s Honor Award for 2020 in recognition of their outstanding achievement. “The One-Click products are an important example of technology transfer work that directly connects our FIA data and expertise with our partners and customers across the nation,” says Bill Burkman, FIA program manager in the Southern Research Station.
The state-of-the-forest factsheets include the most frequently requested data: forest land area, number of live trees, volume of live trees, forest land ownership (private, federal, state, local), plot counts, and sampling frequency.
“It only takes one click of the mouse. Click a State and get a factsheet. It’s that easy,” adds Oswalt. “The factsheets also link to an interactive map platform, where you can view a state’s current and previous inventory data, browse neighbor states, and discover other FIA data resources.”
“One-Click represents a new direction in reporting for FIA. It’s powerful because it pulls information directly from the public FIA database,” says Ted Ridley, ecologist and database lead for the project.
FIA has also created an automated One-Click TPO Factsheet. These resource updates include wood production by state for hardwoods and softwoods and from a canvass of wood-using mills. Roundwood production is separated into saw logs, posts or poles, bioenergy, and other industrial uses.
“One-Click TPO is a logical next step for making FIA timber product output data more accessible for our users,” says Jason Cooper, SRS forester and lead of the TPO version of the One-Click Factsheets. “The program is always looking for ways to increase accessibility and speed up data delivery – this platform does both.”
These automated products are a key component of FIA’s future reporting. One significant benefit will be cost savings in the form of salary time for FIA analysts. The researchers now have more flexibility to pursue innovative FIA data application questions and develop value-added products, increasingly with partners from outside of the Forest Service.
“The One-Click factsheets capitalize upon the investment in and collaboration across FIA as national program. I look forward to other units leveraging the stakeholder interests in their regions to develop similar tools that provide national analyses,” adds Hobie Perry, FIA program manager in the Northern Research Station.
Another benefit of the automation is a more efficient publication production process. Partners and stakeholders interested in the data can quickly obtain current, citable documentation on the status and change of forests and the forest products industry in the U.S.
“Forest inventory data are critical for analyses of timber supply, biodiversity, forest health, and invasive plant risk at landscape and regional levels – and are useful for economic development and forest planning decisions as well,” says Rob Doudrick, SRS director.
For more information on One-Click, email Christopher Oswalt at email@example.com or Ted Ridley at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on One-Click TPO, email Jason Cooper at email@example.com.