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Cooperation With Landowners

Forested hills viewed through a barbed wire fenceThe Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program’s Congressionally mandated mission is to collect, compile, summarize, and make available high-quality data on the forest resources of the United States. This means not only collecting data on national forest, but all federal, state, local, and private land. The resulting FIA dataset is widely recognized as the preeminent, nationally consistent, unbiased measure of forest land conditions in the United States. Measures of forest productivity and standing inventory across all land ownerships are critical to evaluating the long-term supply of forest resources, as well as the health of the Nation’s forests. Estimates of forest conditions on nonindustrial private lands (private lands not owned by forest products companies) are often overlooked, and thus, it is vital that we sample those lands during our forest inventories. The data we collect on the plot on your land will contribute greatly to the overall database and strength of this vital national program.

Frequently asked questions:

Why does the Forest Service need to collect data on private lands?

The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for managing 190 million acres of land (not all forested) which seems like a lot, but there is an estimated 755 million acres of forest land in the United States. If we only collected data on national forest lands our data would be very limited and would not give an accurate idea of how the forest within the United States are being managed, and are changing over time. Cooperation between the Forest Service, other government entities, private business, and citizens is essential to making our program a success. PNW-FIA partners and clients include other Forest Service research programs, state forestry agencies, the National Forest System, Forest Health Protection programs in State and Private Forestry, other federal agencies such as the National Park Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, universities, environmental organizations, forest industry companies, and private landowners. The needs of these groups help determine what data is collected, the research and analyses performed, and the kind of report or output produced. Input and collaboration from partners and clients is obtained in a variety of ways including annual client meetings, data requests, special working sessions, and cooperative agreements.

What is the data used for?

Data charts and publicationsOur data is used by private industry, government agencies (including state and local agencies), universities, and others for a wide variety of studies and projects including forest planning, evaluating wildlife habitat conditions, assessing sustainability of current ecosystem management practices, monitoring forest health, supporting planning and decision making activities undertaken by public and private enterprises, predicting the effects of climate change, non-native species monitoring, fire modeling, biomass availability studies, assessment of fuels reduction strategy, and growth, yield, and mortality monitoring across the landscape. The data is available to the public for free and can be found at the national program data and tools page. This website also has tutorials on how to use the data.

Why did you choose the location on my property?

Hexagonal grid covering OregonPermanent field plots are established on a grid system with plots spaced at approximately three-mile intervals (or, one plot per 6,000 acres) on both public and private forest land in every state spanning the entire continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. A subset of these field plots are visited on the ground if accessible, while others may not need to be field visited because they are outside the current scope of interest (for example, entirely urban or entirely in a body of water). The survey has been in operation for the Pacific Coast States since the 1930’s and the site selected on your property could have very well originated as a randomly located dot (representing a potential research plot location) on a map back then.

What data is collected on my property?

Information is gathered on live and dead trees, other vegetation, down woody material (logs, sticks, duff, and litter), slope, aspect, elevation, potential site productivity, management practices, and disturbances like disease and fire.

When will a crew come out to complete their work on my land?

Because our crews cover such large areas, they travel to and work out of certain cities or counties until plots in those areas are completed. Crews normally work at higher elevations in the summer, and lower elevations in the spring, and fall. A significant effort is made to time access with safe road conditions (to avoid road and vehicle damage). We are very willing to work with landowners on when they would prefer us to come and complete our inventory.

How long will it take a crew to complete their work?

Field crew member collecting tree dataIt usually takes one day for a crew of two or three people to complete the data collection for one research site. If there are an unusually high number of trees or the crew has to walk long distances to access the plot, then the crew might need more than 1 day to complete the work.

Will the crew only need to visit once?

It depends. Our inventory is designed to provide information about changes across the landscape and once a research site is established we hope to remeasure it on a 10 year cycle (in 10 years we will contact the landowner again for access to the research site to collect remeasurement data). Some regions in the country are on a shorter cycle and visit the research sites every 5 years.

Though it would be a rare occurrence, we may also request to visit your site again in the same year. Part of our mission is to continually monitor and report on the quality of our data which requires spot checks of field collected data. For this reason, a quality assurance crew may request access to revisit the site to take measurements and ensure the quality of the data that was originally collected.

Will the data collected on my property affect my taxes?

Our work will not impact the taxes for your property. Neither the precise location of the plot on your property or your name is associated with any of the data we report on or make available to the public in summarized form. There is no way for any taxing authority to evaluate the value of your property by using our data.

Will the data you collect limit how I can manage my property?

Our work will not have any impact on how you are able to manage your property. Neither the precise location of the plot on your property or your name is associated with any of the data we report on or make available to the public in summarized form. There is no way for any regulatory authority to evaluate the management of your property by using our data. In fact, it is vital to our study that management practices on the land are exactly the same as if we were never there. If our research activities influenced management on the site it would introduce bias to our sample. For that reason if you do know the location of our research site, please do everything you can to treat it the same as the surrounding land and ignore the presence of our survey.

What happens if you find a threatened or endangered plant or animal species on my property?

The FIA program is not looking for any specific rare or threatened species while on your property. If a crew member notices an animal or plant species that is threatened or endangered it is illegal for us to disclose that information to anyone. Further, if the presence of a sensitive species is captured in our data, remember that specific owner information is never released and the locations for all inventory plots are confidential.

Will anybody be able to find out if an inventory plot is on my property?

Plot locations and landowner information are strictly confidential. All Pacific Northwest Forest Inventory and Analysis (PNW-FIA) employees, contractors, collaborators, and volunteers authorized to visit FIA plot locations are required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). The NDA indicates that signees understand and agree to protect the confidential nature of FIA plot locations.

Ownership information is only gathered so that the crews can gain the landowner’s permission to visit each plot. The landowner’s name is not associated with the plot location in any way when the data is analyzed or distributed. The ownership of each plot is only reported in general classes, such as “private industrial”, “private individual” “state”, “national forest”, etc.

Why should I believe that this information will be kept confidential?

The PNW-FIA program takes the Non-Disclosure Policy very seriously. In 2000, the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 3423) amended the Food Security Act of 1985 (H.R. 2100) to include the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program in a list of activities that may not make data available to the public if the owner of the land on which the data were collected can be identified, this includes protection from Freedom of Information Act inquiries. Penalties for violating the law can include fines up to $10,000 and/or a year in jail. In recognition of the fact that two-thirds of the forest land in the United States is privately owned and of the importance of private landowner participation in the FIA program, FIA was placed under the same privacy protection provisions as other critical agricultural inventory, monitoring, and census programs operated by the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS). A new privacy law was not created for FIA. Rather, Congress gave private forest landowners participating in the FIA program the same legal protections already enjoyed by farmers participating in the other USDA programs.

Can you tell me where the plot is?

Unfortunately, we cannot tell you exactly where the plot location is when requesting access. We can tell you the township, range and section, but no information on a finer scale can be released. The reason we keep plot locations confidential, even from the owner, is that we don’t want our study biased by any purposeful change in management. Our goal is to track the treatments, harvests and disturbances that would naturally occur on the land regardless of the presence of our research plot. In some extreme instances property owners have clear-cut a stand containing one of our plots and left every tree within the plot area standing. Of course, as the property owner it is your right to follow us anywhere we go while on your property and some owners do choose to accompany our crews to the plot location.

Am I responsible if Forest Service Personnel get hurt on my property?

Landowners are not liable for property loss, damage or injuries related to our staff working on their land; we are covered by Federal Tort Law. Liability under this act is described as follows:

  1. As permitted under the Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C. Pt. VI Ch. 171), the Forest Service shall be liable for the wrongful acts, omissions or negligence of any Forest Service employee, while such employee is acting within the scope of his office or employment, where the Forest Service, as a private person would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the laws of the State where the act or omission occurred.
  2. The Forest Service assumes full responsibility for risk of bodily injury, sickness, disease or death, or injury to the Forest Service employees and for destruction of Forest service property while the Forest Service is on the property.

Plain language explanation of liability involved in government workers accessing private land:

  1. If, in the course of their inventory, government employees damage private land or other property, the property owner may file a claim for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act. As long as the employee is acting within the scope of his/her employment, the government is liable for any loss or damage created by the employee. The property owner may submit a claim directly to the Agency for damages.
  2. If, on the other hand, a government employee is injured while conducting an inventory on private property, the employee’s medical expenses and lost wages are the responsibility of the Federal government through its Office of Worker’s Compensation Program. There would be no reason to make a claim against the landowner.

Can I be sent information about what was inventoried on my land?

Let the crew know that you would like to have a summary of the data collected on your property and under most circumstances we will be able to fill this data request. Since it takes several months for the data to go through a quality assurance process and be compiled, your summary will not be immediately available. Many other data products are also available. Please refer to the publications page for more information on FIA publications that data from your plot may be contributing to.

What do I need to do?

The FIA program collects information on the ownership of each plot a few months before our field data collection season starts. This information is gathered from publicly accessible county assessor records. Soon after, our staff reach out to landowners directly. The crew assigned to each plot MUST gain the permission of the landowner or their representative either in writing, in person, or over the phone before going out to complete the work.

In Washington, Oregon and California letters are sent out to individual landowners requesting permission for a crew to visit the plot. Self-addressed, postage-paid postcards are enclosed with each letter for landowners to reply to our request. The easiest way to grant permission to visit your property is to fill out the post card and send it back, or use the information provided in the letter to contact our office via phone or e-mail. We are happy to answer any questions.

Our crews need to know about any access issues (ex. locked gates) or hazards (ex. aggressive animals) while on your property. If you have renters on your property please notify them of our upcoming visit. Let us know if there is anywhere on your property you don’t want us to go or drive. An example would be if you don’t want us driving on a dirt road that gets really muddy after a hard rain.

How can I get more information?

More information on FIA data uses can be found in our national program fact sheet. You can also refer to the RMA Research topics page. If you would like to speak with someone for more information on our project, please contact the appropriate state coordinator by visiting our contacts page.