Paper assesses implications of changing the design of forest inventory systems

Continuous forest inventories that cover large regions, such as the USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis Program, must consider three main design factors that affect costs: plot intensity, remeasurement cycle, and field work requirements.

A recent paper evaluates the trade-offs involved when inventory programs seek to lower costs by reducing plot intensity or increasing remeasurement cycles.

The paper, which was authored by Paul C. Van Deusen of NCASI and Francis A. Roesch of the USDA Forest Service, appeared in the journal Mathematical and Computational Forestry & Natural-Resource Sciences.  The abstract for the paper follows.

“Continuous forest inventory planners can allocate the budget to more plots per acre or a shorter remeasurement cycle. A higher plot intensity benefits small area estimation and allows for more precision in current status estimates. Shorter cycles may provide better estimates of growth, removals and mortality. On a fixed budget, the planner can't have both greater plot intensity and shorter cycles. Therefore, it is important to understand the trade-offs involved. Growth over removals ratios are important indicators of sustainability, and can be adversely affected by changes in cycle length. However, it might be possible to ameliorate negative impacts of longer cycle lengths with judicious use of aerial imagery. Increasing the cycle length reduces the value of an inventory for monitoring, but reducing the number of plots increases the variance of both current status estimates and trend estimates. There may be no optimal statistical solution to this quandary, but the best solution will depend on policy and management objectives. Continuous forest inventories use permanent plots that are remeasured to provide information on growth, removals and mortality. Typically, all plots are remeasured within a narrow time span, but the USDA Forest Service has popularized a variant referred to as an annual forest inventory where a percentage of the permanent plots are remeasured every year. We discuss trade-offs between number of field plots and cycle length and provide some insight with example applications showing how these decisions impact growth and removals estimates. We also discuss a variant of the traditional growth over removals ratio estimator that limits degradation in estimate quality as cycle lengths increase.”



Van Deusen, P.C., and F.A. Roesch. 2015. Plot intensity and cycle-length effects on growth and removals estimates from forest inventories. Mathematical and Computational Forestry & Natural-Resource Sciences 7(1):33–38.