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Individual Highlight

Mapping Causes of Disturbance in U.S. Forests

Photo of Forest canopy loss event types in the contiguous United States,1986–2010.
Forest canopy loss event types in the contiguous United States,1986–2010. Snapshot : A collaborative project between the USFS Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA), NASA, and several universities developed a national dataset mapping the location, timing, and cause of canopy loss events due to removals, fire, stress, wind, and land use conversion, as well as unperturbed forest areas across the conterminous United States from 1986-2010. 

Principal Investigators(s) :
Schleeweis, KarenMoisen, Gretchen
Research Location : Conterminous United States
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2020
Highlight ID : 1723


To monitor forest health and manage lands for multiple uses, managers need to understand the processes driving forest change at fine spatial scales over long time spans. This study used Landsat imagery and a set of algorithms to link forest change event type and timing to more than 258 million hectares of U.S. forested ecosystems. The resulting maps show areas of persisting forest cover loss resulting from land use conversion, as well as temporary losses caused by fire, removals, stress, and wind.  Over 24 years of data, 1986-2010, it was observed most forest area (71%) experienced little-to-no canopy cover loss. Where canopy cover loss was detected, the vast majority was attributed to temporary removals (81%). Wildfire accounted for 12%, stress 5%, and 2% to conversion. Through time, within and between geographic regions, the relative area per year of removals, fire, and stress varied substantially.  This improved characterization of forest cover loss will help support analysis not previously possible across the entire conterminous U.S.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Todd A. Schroeder, Southern Research Station FIA
  •  Chris Toney, RMRS (technician)
  •  Elizabeth A. Freeman, RMRS (technician)
  • Jennifer L. Dugan - NASA Ames
  • Samuel N. Goward and Chengquan Huang - University of Maryland

Program Areas