Recommendations from the 2022 Special Focus Session of the Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA) National User Group: Answering the Grand Challenges of Forest Carbon Decision Support

June 13, 2022

Continuing the long-standing tradition of convening the FIA National User Group, SAF and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) recently hosted a special focus session to explore the topic of forest carbon estimation. All elements of the FIA program provide vital data for improving the management and monitoring the sustainability of the nation’s forests, and forest carbon decision support has become an integral part of that mission. This special focus session provided an opportunity for the user community—from landowners to researchers—to come together to discuss how FIA data can best support the professionals who are integrating forest carbon into their research and management decisions.  

Held the week of March 21, a total of 140 attendees from across sectors attended and spoke at the virtual event, reflecting the importance of partnerships and collaboration in the field of forest data. The 2022 Special Focus Session had three key focus areas: (1) the grand challenges of forest carbon estimation; (2) new and emerging technologies and solutions to address these grand challenges; and (3) the ways in which the diverse range of people interested in forest carbon decision support can form new working relationships to generate these solutions. 

With the help of Rich Guldin of Guldin Forestry LLC, seven core recommendations were distilled from this meeting to reflect the needs of the FIA user community. These recommendations paint a more complete picture of future trends in forest carbon decision support, or the ways in which our community’s knowledge base, management systems, and user interfaces can be adapted to make decisions about forest carbon easier for all stakeholders. The following list provides a brief overview of these recommendations: 

  1. The FIA program needs additional financial resources to meet its core information and reporting objectives. 
  2. There is urgent pressure to create a new strategic plan for the FIA program in FY 2022. 
  3. The new FIA strategic plan needs to include phased options to expand and improve the efficiency of its field sampling and inventory work. 
  4. There is a need to increase soil sampling in two ways: shift from 20 cm to 50 cm depth samples and collecting soil samples on all Phase 2 plots nationwide. 
  5. Improve our capacity to model forest carbon through improved estimation models and by expanding sources of data. 
  6. The US Forest Service needs larger and broader engagement beyond the FIA program by its communications specialists to and through networks and extension programs in universities, NGOs, and other public agencies. 
  7. The onus is on the FIA user community to become a “community of practice” by developing analytical tools and applications and communications products about forest carbon tailored to different levels of public literacy. 

A program summary was published this month and can be downloaded or accessed through SAF’s Advocacy and Outreach webpage under the section titled “National User Group Meetings.” The program summary includes brief descriptions of oral presentations and links to videos, a synthesis of small-group dialogues with attendees elaborating on user-community needs, as well as a more detailed account of the recommendations listed above. 

Featured in the program summary and available to watch through YouTube are exciting presentations from speakers like Grant Domke of the USDA Forest Service and Kelly McConville of Harvard University. Domke unveils five major takeaways on needed improvements in forest carbon science, while McConville showcases her innovative educational program that curates experiential forest data projects for undergraduate students studying statistics. Go check out the great work showcased by these researchers and share them with your colleagues! 

We are grateful to the speakers and attendees for the important work they’re doing to shape and advance the future of forest carbon estimation and decision support. SAF and NCASI look forward to continuing their partnership in organizing and convening user group meetings focused on improving the FIA program. 

Click here to download the program summary.