Science Story

Forest Service Databases Reimagined as Interactive Web-based Maps and More

Diane Banegas
Research & Development
September 19th, 2016 at 10:15AM

Forestry data is now available to resource professionals and the public in an engaging portfolio of web-based tools and applications.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program is in the information gathering business. The program invests $75 million a year to collect data across three themes: field inventories of forest land, a census of the forest products industry, and surveys of forest land owners.

Engagement Porfolio homepage
Engagement Porfolio homepage

This massive campaign collects data on more than 355,000 plots, on public and private lands, across nine time zones, from Guam to U.S. territories in the Caribbean, and it’s been doing this for more than 80 years. On an annual basis, Forest Service employees visit about one-seventh of these plots. The result is a database with more than 19 million trees. Many people, from industry CEO’s, to Congress, to landowners, students, and the public use FIA data for a variety of purposes.

To better serve all FIA customers, a national team of scientists, analysts, programmers, and artists are developing a gallery of interactive communication products that display FIA data visually and allow users to interact with maps and other tools. As a result, the data is accessible to a much larger group of customers who discover it as a better user experience.

“For our program to remain relevant into the future, we are reinventing the way that we deliver our data,” said team leader Charles "Hobie" Perry, who works with the agency’s Northern Research Station in St. Paul, Minn. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to share our rich scientific information as widely as possible. Part of the agency's mission includes educating the public to help them participate effectively in our planning process. So we've been studying how others tell stories in the digital environment. We're combining data, information and knowledge with artistic visualizations, and we're reaching a much broader spectrum of users than ever before."

The team's first web application was the Forest Atlas. To see the gallery of additional web applications click here.