By John Steffenson
I’ve written about our work with the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program previously, and perhaps you’ve seen the plenary presentation FIA staff gave at this year’s Esri User Conference. One of FIA’s newer efforts is to update and modernize one of its traditional and perhaps more mundane tasks, producing annual reports. The FIA Program collects extensive information on the nation’s forests and is mandated by the farm bill to produce five-year reports on the status and trends of our forest resources. In the east, FIA has historically also produced an annual report that provides insight into the incremental changes and trends observed in the data collected since the last detailed report. State foresters and industry experts can utilize that information to make policy or investment decisions.
Fifteen years ago, annual reports began as resource bulletins. These previously printed documents are now delivered as PDFs. At the 2016 Society of American Foresters National Convention in Madison, Wisconsin, the FIA Program unveiled 10 FIA annual reports as story maps with interactive maps, charts, and graphs. “We’ve been producing annual reports for a long time, but how do we make them more meaningful, not just rote documents? How can we reach new audiences and explore new ideas?” asks Charles “Hobie” Perry, research soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station.
According to Sharon Stanton, acting deputy program manager for resource monitoring and assessment at the Pacific Northwest Research Station, “Story maps have allowed all of us to explore different things. For some of us, it’s about the design aesthetic, and for others, it’s finding creative ways to try different things to present information in new and different ways. It sometimes makes me jealous how creative some of these people are.”
Taking an annual report and transforming it from a PDF to a story map may seem like a small step, but for these scientists, it’s all part of a larger vision of a science platform that reimagines the process of conducting scientific studies and delivering results in new and meaningful results. “It’s allowed all of us, and especially the analysts who are often stuck doing routine analyses, to unlock our creative and imaginative selves and help us envision a more interesting future,” says Christopher Oswalt, research forester, Southern Research Station.
Don’t miss seeing these powerful Story Maps at the American Geophysical Union Conference being held December 12 – 16, 2016 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Hobie Perry from the U.S. Forest Service will present their visually compelling, interactive and information-rich Story Maps on Monday, December 12 in the post hall from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.