Author: Andrew J. R. Gillespie usda forest Service

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Author: Andrew J. R. Gillespie

USDA Forest Service

Tel 202.205.1507


Changes in the Forest Service’s FIA Program
There has always been a strong demand for timely, consistent, and reliable forest inventory and monitoring information of the type provided by the USDA Forest Services Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) programs. Recently the demand has been growing. Customers want more recent information, covering a broader scope of forest attributes, with more analysis and reporting and easier access to program databases. Many of these demands were expressed in the Agriculture Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (16 USC 1642(e) ). In response, the Forest Service is significantly enhancing the FIA program by changing from a periodic survey to an annual survey, by increasing our capacity to analyze and publish data, and by merging the FIA and FHM plots into a single three tiered FIA system.
What is Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA)? FIA is the Nation's forest census. FIA reports on status and trends in forest area and location; in the species, size, and health of trees; in total tree growth, mortality, and removals by harvest; in wood production and utilization rates by various products; and in forest land ownership. The enhanced FIA program will include information relating to tree crown condition, lichen community composition, soils, ozone indicator plants, complete vegetative diversity, and coarse woody debris. The program is managed by the Research and Development organization within the USDA Forest Service in cooperation with State and Private Forestry and National Forest Systems. FIA has been in operation under various names (Forest Survey, Forest Inventory and Analysis) for some 70 years. The program covers forests on all private lands and most public lands within the US. The program is implemented in cooperation with a variety of partners including State forestry agencies and private landowners who grant access to their lands for data collection purposes.
Why is FIA important? FIA provides objective and scientifically credible information on key forest ecosystem processes: how much forest there is, what it looks like, whether the forest area is increasing or decreasing, whether we are gaining or losing species, how quickly trees are growing, dying, and being harvested, and how the forest ecosystem is changing over time with respect to the soil and other vegetative community attributes. Such information has many important uses including:

* Helping policy makers at the federal and state level to formulate good forest policy, and to assess the sustainability of current and past policy;

* Enabling land managers to devise better management plans and to assess the effects of current and past management practices on the land;

* Serving as a starting point for scientific investigations in a variety of areas which involve changes in forest ecosystems over time;

* Formulating business plans which will be both economically and ecologically sustainable over time;

* Keeping the public informed about the health and sustainability of the Nation's forests.

FIA is the only program which provides consistent, credible, and periodic forest data for all private and most public forest lands within the United States. FIA covers all forest land of the US except for certain National Forests in the western US which choose to conduct independent inventories.
How is FIA organized? FIA is organizationally located within the Research and Development Deputy Area of the USDA Forest Service. FIA has three levels of internal management: an executive level involving senior executives from the Forest Service and State Forestry Agencies, who provide broad policy guidance; a management level consisting of field program managers from the Forest Service and States responsible for implementing the program on a day-to-day basis; and a technical level consisting of groups of technical specialists drawn from the Forest Service and States, who develop, document, and review program procedures. Across the country, program work is coordinated out of five regional field offices. Each region maintains their own internal set of regional customers and partners who collaborate in program implementation.
How does FIA do its work? FIA consists of a nationally consistent core program which can be enhanced at the regional, state or local level to address special interests. The national core consists of three phases. Phase one is a remote sensing phase aimed at classifying the land into forest and non-forest and taking spatial measurements such as fragmentation, urbanization, and distance variables. This phase has historically been done using aerial photography, but is changing to a system based on satellite imagery. Phase 2 consists of a set of field sample locations distributed across the landscape with approximately one sample location (FIA plot) every 6,000 acres. Forested sample locations are visited by field crews who collect a variety of forest ecosystem data. Non forest locations are also visited as necessary to quantify rates of land use change. Phase 3 consists of a subset of the phase two plots which are visited during the growing season in order to collect an extended suite of ecological data including full vegetation inventory, tree and crown condition, soil data, lichen diversity, coarse woody debris, and ozone damage. Phase 3 plots, formerly known as FHM plots, will now be sampled in an integrated fashion along with the plots formerly known as FIA plots, allowing us to deliver a seamless, comprehensive database.
Under the annual approach, data will be collected on a subset of plots in all states every year. This is a departure from the historical FIA approach of sampling states sequentially in a cycle. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to sample 20% of all field plots in every state every year. As an initial step towards this goal, we are striving to sample 15% of plots in the eastern US and 10% of the plots in the western US every year as a base federal program. Alaska, Hawaii, and other island areas will receive treatment as special cases not necessarily conforming to the general model.
How much will FIA cost? This base federal program is expected to cost approximately $65 million when fully implemented in 2003, increasing thereafter at the rate of inflation. This compares to the 1999 expenditure of approximately $33 million for the FIA, FHM, and related National Forest System programs combined. This expenditure will cover the 15% east/10% west program with five year reporting for all states. In addition, State or other partners will have the opportunity to cost share with FIA in a variety of ways: for increasing the sample fraction to 20%, or to intensify the sample for smaller area estimation, or to add additional variables of local interest, or any combination. The FIA program is designed to be flexible to meet changing needs over time while still providing the consistent, compatible backbone needed to support long term forest inventory and monitoring. After 2003, it is critical that the FIA program continue to receive funding increases to offset any inflation, because our annual approach to forest inventory depends on producing a constant stream of outputs over time.
Where can I learn more? More information about the FIA program, including the Strategic Plan for Forest Inventory and Monitoring and links to your regional FIA program staff offices, is available at the National FIA World Wide Web site at For more information, contact the National FIA Program Staff at USDA Forest Service, telephone 202-205-1507 or via email at
Updated 10/2000

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