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Sara A. Goeking

Photo of Sara Goeking

Biological Scientist

507 25th Street
Ogden, UT 84401
Contact Sara A. Goeking

Current Research

My work seeks to develop more spatially explicit analyses and novel applications of FIA data that will enhance our understanding of forest dynamics such as mortality, disturbance, and land use/land cover change. Current research projects include:

  1. Linking forest dynamics with water resources - As a doctoral student working with David Tarboton at Utah State University, I am using ground-based FIA data to study the effects of forest disturbance on ecohydrologic processes, water supply, and water availability for forest ecosystems. This research also seeks to evaluate the effects of future forest management on water supply, both for people and for forests.
  2. Whitebark pine regeneration and distribution - This project capitalizes on the spatial and temporal representativeness of the FIA dataset, which indicates that the distribution of whitebark pines is far more widespread among mixed-composition stands – particularly the lodgepole pine forest type – than in pure whitebark pine stands.
  3. Riparian forests - Another study is a collaboration with multiple stakeholders to develop recommendations for restoration of riparian forests in Utah. A second riparian-related investigation seeks to develop techniques for inventory & monitoring of riparian forests and nonforest lands across broad scales.
  4. International outreach and tech transfer - In addition to my ongoing work with FIA data, I periodically serve temporary assignments with USFS International Programs. I provide technical assistance to other countries in the areas of data quality assurance (quality assessment and quality control, or QA/QC), definition of forest monitoring objectives, field data collection, and analysis/reporting.

Research Interests

I am interested in anything geospatial, because nearly all ecological and hydrological processes vary spatially across the landscape. I seek to apply modelling and remote sensing approaches that can expand our forest inventory data beyond forest land to areas such as rangeland and riparian areas in the semi-arid Interior West. Spatially explicit forest monitoring data can also provide a more realistic representation of land cover for evaluating the effects of forest dynamics and forest management on water resources.

Past Research

My previous research projects included the following:
  • Comparison of historical vs. current forest conditions - To understand how forests have changed over the recent decades and continue to change, I developed methods for comparing historical (periodic) versus current (annual) forest inventories, with a focus on differences among various forest types and land management groups.
  • Fire effects - Several FIA analysts are collaborating to quantify the effects of fire on basal area among various forest types.
  • Field data collection - I was fortunate to serve as an FIA field crew leader when I first came to the Forest Service. My work with the RMRS-FIA Data Collection Team also involved streamlining and expanding the scope of FIA Pre-field workflows so that we now collect basic land use, land cover, and tree canopy cover data on all FIA plots.
  • Riparian vegetation and sandbar monitoring - Prior to joining FIA, most of my work focused on spatial analysis of riparian vegetation and sandbar storage in the Colorado River basin, and analysis of multi-temporal surveys and historical air photos to quantify past and current responses to hydroelectric flow regulation in a historical context.

Why This Research is Important

Forest managers, stakeholders, and the general public rely on good science to provide high-quality data on the condition and trends in forests across all lands, and FIA provides that information. The spatial and temporal intensity of FIA's plots allow us to provide forest information that is statistically robust and representative at the landscape level. A tremendous strength of the FIA dataset is the size and spatial representativeness of the sample, with about 35,000 forested plots in the Interior West states. As an FIA analyst, I strive to continually develop innovative analyses that are useful to land managers and other scientists. FIA functions as the nation's forest census by collecting mountains of data, and FIA analysts need to paint those mountains of data as an information landscape that can be easily seen and interpreted by our customers.


  • Utah State University, Phd Candidate, Watershed Sciences, 2017
  • Utah State University, M.S., Forest Ecology, 2003
  • Utah State University, B.S., Environmental Studies and Plant Science, 1996
  • Professional Organizations

    • Society for Conservation GIS, Member ( 2015 to present )
    • Society of American Foresters (SAF), Member ( 2010 to present )


    Witt, Christopher; Shaw, John D.; Menlove, Jim; Goeking, Sara A.; DeRose, R. Justin; Pelz, Kristen A.; Morgan, Todd A.; Hayes, Steven W., 2019. Montana’s forest resources, 2006-2015
    Wurtzebach, Zachary; DeRose, R. Justin; Bush, Renate R.; Goeking, Sara A.; Healey, Sean P.; Menlove, James S.; Pelz, Kristen A.; Schultz, Courtney; Shaw, John D.; Witt, Christopher, 2019. Supporting National Forest System planning with Forest Inventory and Analysis data
    Shaw, John D.; Menlove, James S.; Witt, Christopher; Morgan, Todd A.; Amacher, Michael C.; Goeking, Sara A.; Werstak, Charles E. , Jr., 2018. Arizona’s forest resources, 2001-2014
    Witt, Christopher; DeRose, R. Justin; Goeking, Sara A.; Shaw, John D., 2018. Idaho’s forest resources, 2006-2015
    DeRose, R. Justin; Shaw, John D.; Goeking, Sara A.; Marcille, Kate; McIver, Chelsea P.; Menlove, James S.; Morgan, Todd A.; Witt, Christopher, 2018. Wyoming’s forest resources, 2011-2015
    Thompson, Michael T.; Shaw, John D.; Witt, Christopher; Werstak, Charles E. , Jr.; Amacher, Michael C.; Goeking, Sara A.; DeRose, R. Justin; Morgan, Todd A.; Sorenson, Colin B.; Hayes, Steven W.; Menlove, James S., 2017. Colorado's forest resources, 2004-2013
    Goeking, Sara A.; Menlove, James S., 2017. New Mexico’s forest resources, 2008-2014
    Menlove, James S.; Shaw, John D.; Witt, Christopher; Werstak, Charles E. , Jr.; DeRose, R. Justin; Goeking, Sara A.; Amacher, Michael C.; Morgan, Todd A.; Sorenson, Colin B., 2016. Nevada's forest resources, 2004-2013
    Werstak, Charles E. , Jr.; Shaw, John D.; Goeking, Sara A.; Witt, Christopher; Menlove, James S.; Thompson, Mike T.; DeRose, R. Justin; Amacher, Michael C.; Jovan, Sarah; Morgan, Todd A.; Sorenson, Colin B.; Hayes, Steven W.; McIver, Chelsea P., 2016. Utah's forest resources, 2003-2012
    Goeking, Sara A.; Shaw, John D.; Witt, Christopher; Thompson, Michael T.; Werstak, Charles E. , Jr.; Amacher, Michael C.; Stuever, Mary; Morgan, Todd A.; Sorenson, Colin B.; Hayes, Steven W.; McIver, Chelsea P., 2014. New Mexico's forest resources, 2008-2012
    Goeking, Sara A.; Liknes, Greg C.; Lindblom, Erik; Chase, John; Jacobs, Dennis M.; Benton, Robert., 2012. A GIS-based tool for estimating tree canopy cover on fixed-radius plots using high-resolution aerial imagery
    Witt, Christopher; Shaw, John D.; Thompson, Michael T.; Goeking, Sara A.; Menlove, James S.; Amacher, Michael C.; Morgan, Todd A.; Werstak, Charles E. , Jr., 2012. Idaho's Forest Resources, 2004-2009
    Liknes, Greg C.; Woodall, Christopher W.; Walters, Brian F.; Goeking, Sara A., 2012. Unlocking the climate riddle in forested ecosystems
    Whitebark pine sapling, Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho
    Forest inventory data show that more than half of all standing whitebark pine trees in the U.S. are dead. Regeneration of whitebark pine is widespread, especially in lodgepole pine stands, which suggests that active management of whitebark pine should target mixed-species stands to take advantage of natural regeneration. 
    Trends in forest attributes are typically assessed using long-term forest inventories, but trends can only be assessed when inventory methods are compatible over time. This study demonstrated an appropriate method of comparing historical to current inventory data, showing that comparisons not accounting for changing inventory methods can produce misleading results about forest trends in western states.
    Background The public, forest managers, and scientists now have the most comprehensive inventory of forest health trends in New Mexico’s history. The report New Mexico’s Forest Resources, 2008-2012, summarizes the most recent inventory of New Mexico’s forests based on field data collected from more than 3,000 forest areas between 2008 and 2012.
    Nonresponse bias in forest monitoring programs can result in under-estimation of forest attributes. This study presented a modified stratification scheme for New Mexico that compensated for nonresponse bias and produced more accurate forest inventory.
    A recently implemented science-based ponderosa pine restoration treatment site on the Pike National Forest near Manitou Experimental Forest (photo by Mike A Battaglia).
    The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program provides data for monitoring forest biomass at state, regional, and national scales. In 2000, the FIA program shifted from a periodic inventory to an annual inventory. Our study illustrated the effect of comparing population estimates from the old periodic inventories with population estimates from annual inventory plots, versus comparing only plots that were measured during both periodic and annual inventories in Idaho. 
    Forest canopies exert a physical influence on the partitioning of precipitation into runoff versus evapotranspiration through several hydrologic processes. This project seeks to illuminate the ways that forest dynamics and disturbance affect hydrologic processes and availability of water for ecosystems and for people.  
    Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is an ecologically important species in high-altitude areas of the West due to the habitat and food source it provides for Clark’s nutcrackers, red squirrels, grizzly bears, and other animals. Whitebark pine stands have recently experienced high mortality due to wildfire, white pine blister rust, and a mountain pine beetle outbreak, leading to questions about the species’ long-term viability. This project seeks to quantify the current distribution and regeneration status of whitebark pine throughout its US range.