Exploring Forest Extent, Composition and C Storage using U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis Data & Reports

Forest Inventory and Analysis Program
Forest Inventory Data Get data on referenced webpage by clicking link titled "Excel Spreadsheet of Regional and State Totals".
Datasheet created by Rita Freuder, Dr. Mary Martin, and Sarah Silverberg at the Complex System Research Center, University of New Hampshire

The Dataset

1987, 1992, 1997 data on U.S. forest acreage, ownership, carbon stock, and change in carbon stock by state/region and forest type. For 2002, forest age by region, and the above categories.

Use and Relevance

Forests take up CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, accumulating carbon primarily in their trunks. Knowing the area extent and age of forests in a state or region allows scientists to compare model estimates of growth and carbon storage with measurements of these same parameters in the field.


http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/tools-data/spatial/ This is a webpage of maps of various forest characteristics. Click on the "maps" link on the left menu bar. Making your own graphs in Excel is also possible from the downloadable spreadsheet data.

Use in Teaching

These data can be used as validation data for modeling carbon uptake and storage by a forest. It can be used to compare carbon storage of different kinds of forests in different climate conditions.


  1. CO2 uptake in photosynthesis and loss in respiration.
  2. Carbon storage in forests, trees, soil and litter.
  3. Land use change due to forest loss or creation.


  1. Using data to "see" variation in forest species by U.S. region.
  2. Using Excel as a computational tool to determine toal carbon storage by forest type.
  3. Using measured data for compare to model outputs.
  4. Using Excel formula features to convert units of biomass and carbon storage

Exploring the Data

Data Type and Presentation

The data are text numeric spreadsheets for the years 1987, 1992, 1997. The data are available by state and region.

Accessing the Data

The State Excel spreadsheet file has a worksheet page for each state, or U.S. region. In the case of the 2002 report, tables 12 and 13 by region give forest age. This link has disappeared as FIA does some rearranging on its site, but I attach the table in report form, "2002 RPA Final Tables.pdf". Link to be added here when stable.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/tools-data/maps/default.asp is a webpage of all kinds of maps of forest categories.

Tools for Data Manipulation

http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/tools-data/ provides links to online maps you can create from FIA data. The data can also be manipulated in the spreadsheets in which they are distributed. There are also some prepared U.S. maps of forest characteristics for download.

Acronyms, Initials, and Jargon

FIA: Forest Inventory and Analysis Program
USFS: U.S. Forest Service, within USDA (US Dept of Agriculture)
Biomass: total mass of living material measured as dry weight. Typical units are grams per meter squared (g/m^2)
carbon stock: the weight of biomass that is carbon (45-50% typically)
forest types: non-stocked & other
MMTC: million metric tons of carbon

About the Data

Collection Methods

Collection methods for the FIA Program is well documented in the "Sampling and Plot Design" link at http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/library/fact-sheets/

Limitations and Sources of Error

The FIA prints a fact sheet called "FIA Quality Assurance" http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/library/fact-sheets/data-collections/QA.pdf

To quote one of the statistics ".... the inventory is required to meet sampling error standards for area, volume, and growth as specified in the Forest Service Handbook. At the state level, estimates are designed to be accurate to within 67% (± 1 se). A 3% error for 1 × 106 acres (0.4 × 106 ha) of timberland is the maximum allowable sample error for total area, and a 5% error for 1 × 109 ft3 (28.3 × 106 m3) is the maximum allowable sample error for total volume and growth estimates of all species combined (Hansen et al. 1992, Woudenberg and Farrenkopf 1995)."

References and Resources

Education Resources that Use this Dataset

EET Chapter "Understanding Carbon Storage in Forests"

While there is not a specific "education and outreach" link, FIA has many outreach channels . There is an annual FIA Symposium held at which research and papers are presented. The FIA website has extensive areas of public information for example, reports about invasive species, or current uses of wood, or ownership of forested land. There are maps and online tools to view FIA data. There is a "contact an FIA scientist" link as well. While the website may be a communication tool for the whole of the U.S. FIA program, there are fact sheets and information provided which the public can understand. Organizations such as local conservation commissions or county extension service personnel present this data to concerned citizens in response to local problems.

Other Related Scientific References

Jennifer C. Jenkins, R.A. Birdsey, Y. Pan. Biomass and NPP Estimation for the Mid-Atlantic Regions (USA) Using Plot-Level Forest Inventory Data. 2001. Ecological Applications. Vol 11 Issue 4 pp 1174-1193

Brown, S. L., and P. E. Schroeder. 1999. Spatial patterns of aboveground production and mortality of woody biomass for eastern U.S. forests. Ecological Applications 9:968–980.

Goodale, CL, MJ Apps, RA Birdsey, CB Field, LS Heath, RA Houghton, JC Jenkins, GH Kohlmaier, WA Kurz, S Liu, G-J Nabuurs, S Nilsson, AZ Shvidenko. 2002. Forest carbon sinks in the Northern Hemisphere. Ecological Applications 12(3):891-899

Related Links