Use of Remote Sensing Data to Improve the Efficiency of National Forest Inventories: A Case Study from the United States National Forest Inventory
Globally, forests are a crucial natural resource, and their sound management is critical for human and ecosystem health and well-being. Efforts to manage forests depend upon reliable data on the status of and trends in forest resources. When these data come from well-designed natural resource monitoring (NRM) systems, decision makers can make science-informed decisions. National forest inventories (NFIs) are a cornerstone of NRM systems, but require capacity and skills to implement. Efficiencies can be gained by incorporating auxiliary information derived from remote sensing (RS) into ground-based forest inventories. However, it can be difficult for countries embarking on NFI development to choose among the various RS integration options, and to develop a harmonized vision of how NFI and RS data can work together to meet monitoring needs. The NFI of the United States, which has been conducted by the USDA Forest Service's (USFS) Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program for nearly a century, uses RS technology extensively. Here we review the history of the use of RS in FIA, beginning with general background on NFI, FIA, and sampling statistics, followed by a description of the evolution of RS technology usage, beginning with paper aerial photography and ending with present day applications and future directions. The goal of this review is to offer FIA's experience with NFI-RS integration as a case study for other countries wishing to improve the efficiency of their NFI programs.