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Improving community sustainability in Marshall Islands through FIA

Marshall Islands — Imagine living on a small island where trees, vegetation, limited fresh water and fish provide the staples of everyday life. This is true for the people who live in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where reliable forest information on the health, number and age of food-source trees such as coconut, breadfruit and pandanus (a native tropical fruiting tree) is of critical importance. Communities in the Marshall Islands rely on the forests for crops, food, construction materials, local crafts, income from exports and protection from wind and surf erosion.

Photo: In the midst of lush forest, two men in hard hats stand on either side of a tree. One man is reading the measuring tape they have wrapped around the trunk.
A field crew measures the diameter of a coconut tree in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Forest Service photo by Seth Ayotte.

The Forest Inventory and Analysis program is currently partnering with the Marshall Islands’ Ministry of Natural Resources and Commerce, the Micronesia Conservation Trust, University of Guam and Region 5 State and Private Forestry to collect data on the status and trends of the republic’s forests. The information collected by FIA will allow local planners, resource managers and policymakers to track changes in their forest resources and adapt over time. Forest inventory information can be used to make plans for planting, increase forest cover to support fresh water resources, promote desirable species and increase food resources. The information can also be used to understand environmental changes and aid in the sustainability of communities and the environment.

A particular concern expressed by local leaders in the Marshall Islands is related to food security and how agroforestry areas, used both locally and for export crops, have changed over time. With input and support from the local governments, the 2018 Marshall Islands FIA project will be expanded to include a pilot study with additional measurements on coconut and pandanus productivity, since they are top exports for the country. This research is made possible in part by a Forest Service landscape scale restoration grant.