Northern Research Station News Releases

Technology Transforms Thickets of Data into Maps, Visual Stories about U.S. Forests

Newtown Square, PA, March 14, 2016 - There are 19 million trees in the USDA Forest Service’s FIA database, and an almost infinite number of stories those trees tell about U.S. forests. Technology is allowing the Forest Service to translate the dense thickets of information collected by Forest Inventory & Analysis into stories that are accessible, mapped, and useful for a broader spectrum of users.

“We have an obligation to leverage the public’s investment in the Forest Inventory & Analysis database into its broadest possible applications,” said Charles (Hobie) Perry, a research soil scientist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and a lead scientist developing the new engagement portfolio. “We’re taking advantage of cutting edge technology to make forest science accessible for a wide range of users and purposes.”

Perry and colleagues, including Chris Oswalt, a research forester at the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, are using GIS and open source tools to create a wide variety of graphic stories, stand-alone maps, online applications, and raw data delivery tools to meet the needs of a wider spectrum of users, including educators, natural resource managers, scientists, media and the public. “All of these products are designed to provide rich, interactive experiences for the public while simultaneously making the content available to other professionals,” Perry said.

Demos of the engagement portfolio are available at:  

“For nearly 90 years, Forest Inventory & Analysis has been the nation’s forest census,” said Tony Ferguson, Acting Director of the Northern Research Station and Forest Products Laboratory. “We are making the investment in forest data an even greater asset by creating flexible tools that are based on sound science and meet the needs of a broad audience.”     

The Forest Inventory & Analysis engagement portfolio is being developed by the Forest Service in collaboration with many partners, including Esri, an international supplier of Geographic Information System software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications. The still developing engagement portfolio was featured in a keynote address by Perry and Oswalt at the FedGIS Conference hosted by Esri last month. A video of their address is available at:

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit


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Last modified: March 14, 2016