OPS 4-6
Leveraging FIA to enhance estimates of potential wildlife habitat and species diversity

Thursday, August 8, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
James D. Garner, Forest Inventory and Analysis, USDA Forest Service, St. Paul, MN
Mark D. Nelson, Forest Inventory and Analysis, USDA Forest Service, St. Paul, MN
Brian G. Tavernia, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Laurel, MD

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) provides nationwide data, information, and knowledge on forest composition and structure, presenting a rich resource for assessment and management of wildlife habitat.  FIA-based estimates of abundance are easily produced for broad habitat classes and for specific habitat elements (e.g., snags). However, FIA data are not directly linked to wildlife-habitat relationship frameworks, or to spatially explicit landscape features (e.g., patch metrics), limiting their operational use for assessing species-specific habitat abundance. Our work focuses on developing crosswalks between FIA attributes, habitat classifications systems, and species-specific wildlife-habitat matrices.  Here, we leverage these crosswalks to estimate current abundance and potential future changes in closed canopy and open canopy forest habitat domains in 20 Northeast and Midwest states.  We assessed potential changes under six future scenarios representing alternative trajectories for climate, land-use, and population changes.  Additionally, we present ongoing work aimed at increasing the spatial and thematic resolution of habitat estimates by incorporating species geographic range maps and assigning National Vegetation Classification Standard (NVCS) attributes to FIA plots.


At present, 173.4 million acres of forestland in the Northeast and Midwest is split in nearly equal portions between closed (49%) and open canopy (51%) habitat types.    Our projections suggest that by 2060 this region could lose between 5.9 and 11 million acres (3.4% to 6.3%) of forestland.  Succession of open canopy to closed canopy forest partly determined the habitat composition of future forestland.  Closed canopy habitat was projected to gain 4.2 to 5.4 million acres (4.9% to 6.3%) whereas open canopy habitat was estimated to lose 14.6 to 15.2 million acres (16.6% to 17.3%).

Ongoing work is aimed at continuing to increase the precision of FIA habitat estimates by 1) increasing FIA plot habitat assignment resolution from the current 6 habitat domains to include 112 NVCS habitat groups, 2) incorporating Gap Analysis Program wildlife species distribution models for 182 amphibians, 564 birds, 285 mammals, and 215 reptiles, 3) developing, testing, and applying Habitat Suitability Index models, and 4) constraining species habitat estimates by their geographic range.  The intersection of these distinct, yet related, datasets will enable estimations of habitat abundance and spatial distribution with a precision not previously available.