Forestry Inventory & Analysis (FIA)

History and Current Status of the Forestry Inventory & Analysis Program

FIA is a nationwide timber and forest resource inventory that has been ongoing for over 70 years in Alabama. A wide variety of timber and other forest resource data is collected from FIA survey plots. There are 5,572 survey plots distributed throughout the state; for the most part, at an approximate 3 X 3 mile spacing. The majority of the plots were established in the 1930’s by the U. S. Forest Service (USFS); however, for various reasons a few new plots are established each year. The plots exist on all types of ownership (private, industry, and public). Prior to 1997 the USFS conducted a periodic survey approximately every 10 years. However, the Forest Service and the States agreed that a 10 year interval between surveys was too long due to increases in demand of forest products and changes in land use.
FIA Survey Crew Photo
In 1997 the USFS and Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) agreed to let the AFC take over the data collection aspect of the survey. Initially, the AFC had 10 crews with assigned work zones. With the help of USFS crews in 2000, the periodic survey for the state was completed in January of 2001. Beginning in 2001 a continuous annual survey was implemented in which 20% of the total number of FIA plots were surveyed each year so after 5 years a full FIA cycle would be completed. (NOTE: A cycle consists of all FIA plots distributed throughout the state. The yearly allocation of plots to be surveyed is referred to as a panel). In late 2005 the last panel of plots was completed for the cycle that began in 2001. FIA statistical information for Alabama (and other states) can be accessed from the USFS’ “FIA Mapmaker” website at:

With the advent of the annual survey, each year the most current panel that has been analyzed is added to the 2005 FIA data results and the oldest year’s panel is deleted from the statistics so there will always be an entire cycle’s worth of information.

Currently, there are 6 full-time AFC employees assigned to FIA – 5 crew leaders and the FIA Coordinator. In early 2006, the FIA crew began surveying plots in the first panel of a new 7-year cycle which means that approximately 15% of all plots are to be surveyed yearly. Today, crews are surveying plots in the fourth panel of the current seven-panel cycle.

How is the FIA information used?

Existing business and industry managers are increasingly in need of information regarding the timber resource in order to make product and investment decision. Potential investors use the information to make analyses and provide reports indicating desirable or underdesirable locations for new or expanding forest products operations. Economic developers actively recruit forest industry and utilize the FIA information to plan for future industrial development in their respective communities in order to expand the economy and increase employment opportunities for citizens in their communities. Environmental policy makers and regulators are using the FIA information as the basis upon which public environmental policy on forest use is developed and results monitored over time. It is clear that forest management in the future will be increasingly complex and demanding. Decisions made by forest managers will be subject to more scrutiny, both by industry and by the general public. Making good balanced decisions regarding our southern forests will be imperative. Good decisions can only be made by competent professionals who are acting with the benefit of good information. Without the benefit of good and timely information about the conditions of our forests, it will not be possible to consistently make good management decisions about our most important resource.
Alert advice for timberland landowners and resource planners:

The Alabama Forestry Commission, in cooperation with the US Forest Service, provides for the continuous inventory of the State’s timber resources. This inventory is used primarily to show regional total timber volume, growth and drain for both pine and hardwood, and to understand conversion of land to and from the timberland use.

It should be noted that the FIA inventory only samples 15% of the State each year and that it is likely that counties which have been impacted by natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes will have pre-event data included in the most recently published FIA data. Therefore, the Alabama Forestry Commission wants to alert landowners, especially in the Southwest part of the State heavily damaged by Hurricane Ivan and storms thereafter, that the FIA data may not accurately reflect the timber resource and that there is a valid chance that such inventory could be overstated.

The long term impact to Alabama’s timberland inventory from the series of tropical events that struck the SW area the State in 2004 and 2005 will not be fully vetted for sometime to come. The AFC encourages landowners and/or economic planners who require statistically valid current pine or hardwood inventory data from counties especially hard hit by these storms, to seek a more applicable inventory than the recently published FIA data.

For more information, please review the storm maps or call your local AFC office for assistance

- Ivan Storm Map
- Katrina Storm Map
- Dennis Strom Map

Additional Information:

- EVALIDator