Note: Working Group and Subcommittee Charter Updates

The Vegetation Subcommittee was established to coordinate terrestrial vegetative data-related activities that include promoting accurate and current standards, financed in whole or in part by Federal funds; exchanging information on technological improvements; encouraging the Federal and non-Federal communities to identify and adopt the standards and specifications; and collecting and processing the requirements of Federal and non-Federal organizations. Learn more

Federal participants in the Subcommittee provide leadership to facilitate: (1) the revision and implementation of the FGDC Vegetation standard and the revision of the classification hierarchy according to the FGDC Vegetation standard, which are used in vegetation classification, mapping, and inventory; (2) the development of partnership programs with Federal agencies, States, Tribes, localities, academia, and the private sector; (3) addressing user and natural resource needs, (4) identifying needs for standards and metadata to support the NGDA Land Cover and Land Use and Biota Themes; and (5) the adoption of goals to support the NSDI strategy, A–16 portfolio management, Data.gov, and GeoPlatform.gov. The subcommittee meets monthly to facilitate partner communication and planning.

Recent accomplishments

FY 2018 Accomplishments

The subcommittee’s accomplishments for 2018 include the following:

  • In 2018, the National Park Service completed vegetation mapping for 10 park units and continued work in 12 additional units. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) assessed the status of regional vegetation map products in meeting the FGDC standard and their readiness for publication. The subcommittee is working with the USGS LANDFIRE program to develop group-level vegetation maps for the 17 LANDFIRE production units. These maps are used in cross-boundary landscape-level analysis of vegetation and can provide information about fire behavior, disturbance regimes, vegetation patterns, and vegetation condition and can be used with models to test management scenarios.
  • In July, the subcommittee presented a full-day symposium on the U.S. National Vegetation Classification (NVC) at the International Association for Vegetation Scientists annual meeting in Montana. The symposium featured 11 papers outlining the history, status, and future work on the NVC. The conference included four additional presentations and two posters on current work on the NVC. The subcommittee organized a half-day symposium at the Natural Areas Association Conference in Colorado, which featured five speakers and one poster.
  • An NVC workshop was held in Alaska. Participants from Federal and State agencies and academia, as well as consultants from Alaska, Canada, and Europe, are continuing work to update the Alaska NVC. The subcommittee is developing an NVC resource library of presentation information to reach a larger audience. The BLM is developing an NVC user guide and a mobile application for keys to the alliances and associations in sagebrush systems. Six USFS regions completed crosswalks from vegetation dominance type classifications to the Macrogroup level of the NVC. The USFS is working on a crosswalk from Society of American Foresters and Society for Range Management cover types to the NVC.
  • The 2008 NVC Standard is a dynamic content standard, and the subcommittee anticipated a need for making changes to the content over time. In 2017, the subcommittee began publishing peer-reviewed updates to the NVC through the online journal “USNVC Proceedings,” hosted on the Ecological Society of America website. In 2018, the subcommittee reviewed the alliance- and association-level content of the NVC in the Rocky Mountains, the Southwestern United States, and California.
  • For several years, software and server upgrades and maintenance have been deferred, and NVC server stability remains a concern. Funds for upgrades are limited. The USFS and the USGS continue to fund the education and content-management responsibilities for the NVC.

FY 2017 Accomplishments

The subcommittee’s accomplishments for 2017 include the following:

  • A paper on the International Association for Vegetation Scientists (IAVS) working group was published in the scientific journal “Phytocoenologia”. Franklin, S.B., Hunter, J., De Cáceres, M., Dengler, J., Krestov, P., and Landucci, F., 2016, Introducing the IAVS Vegetation Classification Working Group: Phytocoenologia, v. 46, p. 5–8. DOI: 10.1127/phyto/2016/0116.
  • Thirteen posters regarding the NVC were presented at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Portland, Oregon, McKerrow, A.J. (moderator), 2017, “U.S. National Vegetation Classification: Advancing the Description and Management of the Nation’s Ecosystems,” organizedposter session, August 6–11, 2017: Ecological Society of America, Portland, Oregon. In that session authors provided examples of the direct application of the classification, demonstrated tools that have been developed to increase access to the standard, and highlighted the network of ecologists who are helping to develop the classification. It was a resource for Federal agencies and programs that use this Federal standard and classification in their planning and management activities.
  • A presentation at the International Association for Vegetation Science Franklin in Palermo, Italy “Division Level Examples for a Global Vegetation-based Biome Classification” showed the value of the higher levels of the USNVC in a global context.
  • The Subcommittee hosted a full-day field trip for the attendees of the ESA Annual Meeting to the South Prairie Botanical Area on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwestern Washington. The trip, which was sold out, highlighted the use of the NVC in definition and monitoring ecological change in significant natural areas.
  • In 2017, there was a focus on helping land managers translate their existing classification systems into the NVC. Several meetings were held on strategies for crosswalking existing classifications to the NVC, where partners presented the challenges they faced.
  • The Forest Service’s Implementation Management Team continued to meet and work with members of the Vegetation Subcommittee to assist Forest Service Regional Ecologists in translating their classifications to the NVC. Also, several training webinars were given by Subcommittee members to guide the Forest Service Regional Ecologists in the use of keys, autokeys, and crosswalks in classification translation.

FY 2016 Accomplishments

The subcommittee’s accomplishments for 2016 include the following:

  •  In February 2016, the U.S. National Vegetation Classification (USNVC) Hierarchy was formally released in a form accessible to the public at www.usnvc.org. This represents the formal release of the classification based on FGDC 2008 Dynamic Content Standard, which was a revision of the original standard adopted in 1997. The classification represents the result of applying the standard—the fully listed vegetation hierarchy. The 2016 National Vegetation Classification is the most up-to-date classification now available. One of the key new features is that it contains more detailed, lower level classifications that include the alliance and association levels. This hierarchy of vegetation classification is the result of grouping stands of vegetation together based on shared characteristics. As with any taxonomy, vegetation classification is used to simplify the complex patterns in order to communicate and share information.
  • Now that the initial vegetation hierarchy content is formally adopted, the process for managing the USNVC as a dynamic standard includes a peer-review process and open access for anyone interested to submit a proposal for revision. A formal review for any proposed changes to the hierarchy descriptions or names will be managed by the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA’s) Vegetation Panel through the Peer Review Board. Peer Review Board members, including the Editor-in-Chief and Regional Editors, were formally accepted by ESA’s Panel; Associate Editors are in the process of being formalized. A scientific peer review will be used to evaluate whether the proposals justify changes in the description or name of a classification. The submitted proposals and decision by the review panel will be published online as the USNVC Proceedings.
  • The first article of the USNVC Proceedings was made available through the ESA Web site. That article represents not only a comprehensive scientific review of USNVC content, but also serves as the centerpiece in testing the formal peer-review process for the dynamic standard.
  • The U.S. Forest Service (FS) continues to work toward implementing the USNVC in research and development, as well as in the National Forest System. The Plan is for FS Regions to develop dichotomous keys for each region to conduct the crosswalk of vegetation to the USNVC with the Vegetation Subcommittee’s help. The subcommittee has been working closely with the National Forest System on their planning to crosswalk existing vegetation classification systems to the USNVC hierarchy. After a number of planning meetings with Regional ecologists, botanists, and foresters and agency Washington D.C. leadership, it was decided that the FS would crosswalk and that the Vegetation Subcommittee would offer assistance to the Regions as they developed the keys needed for the crosswalk.
  • A yearlong effort by the Vegetation Subcommittee’s Data Management working group resulted in a determination of what is needed to keep the USNVC sustainable, easily accessible, and used by partners. Preferred and alternative options were costed out and detailed in a proposal for use in subsequent strategic and implementation plans. The Data Management WG has drafted recommendations for housing the cyberinfrastructural components of the USNVC and is exploring potential sources of funding.
  • The FS and NatureServe presented their work “Assigning U.S. National Vegetation Classification Macrogroups to Forest Inventory and Analysis Plots” at the Society of American Foresters meeting in November 2016. The USNVC macrogroups were assigned to Forest Inventory and Analysis plots across 37 States of the eastern United States by iteratively refining a computer algorithm based on FIA and ancillary geospatial data. Results provide new opportunities for relating FIA with other products that utilize the USNVC Federal standard.
  • There were two documents on the USNVC published in 2016. The first—“How a national vegetation classification can help ecological research and management”—was published in the Journal “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment”. The second— “Classification and description of world formation types”— was the result of work by the Hierarchy Revisions WG, who published the revised USNVC of the World Formation Types. It was published by the FS in General Technical Report 346.
  • The results of two National Vegetation Classification analyses were finalized in two reports to the USGS. These reports summarized analyses of Vegetation Plot Data Harvests in Pennsylvania and a Boreal and Arctic Regional Analysis in Alaska.
  • The FS and USGS continued to fund the ESA to help manage the infrastructure of the USNVC, to develop the classification revision process, and other USNVC activities.
  • Much of subcommittee attended the ESA Vegetation Classification Panel meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in August. That annual meeting is a full day in which the panel focuses on status updates and setting direction for the coming year. Topics covered this year include the USNVC Booth, Publications, the Peer Review Process, and Keys to the USNVC. The Panel focused specifically on identifying next steps to expand the panel’s involvement in international as well as State partnership efforts. The minutes from that meeting can be found on the ESA Vegetation Panel’s Web site.

FY 2015 Accomplishments

The subcommittee’s accomplishments for 2015 include the following:

  •  Formally released the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) for the conterminous United States in fall 2015 (usnvc.org). Also finalized the NVC charter and implementation plan. The NVC is a central organizing framework for how all vegetation in the United States is inventoried and studied, from broad-scale formations (biomes) to fine-scale plant communities. The purpose of the NVC is to produce uniform statistics about vegetation resources across the Nation, based on vegetation data gathered at local, regional, or national levels.
  • Oversaw the ongoing vegetation hierarchy revisions, specifically the division level of the NVC standard, including hosting a workshop for the review of the macrogroups in Linthicum, Maryland, in fall 2014. Submitted for publication the report of the Hierarchy Revision Working Group, which introduces the upper formation levels of the vegetation classification, and provided a description for each type, following the FGDC Vegetation Classification standard format.
  • Finalized the processes for the National Vegetation peer review. The results of the peer reviews and the policy decisions will be used to identify the new vegetation types and modifications to vegetation types currently described in the NVC.
  • Initiated three projects focused on archiving and increasing access to high-quality vegetation plot data for the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Mid-Atlantic States, and California.
  • Initiated two regional vegetation classification projects that will improve our understanding of the NVC in the Artic and Boreal Region of Alaska and the Chihuahuan Desert.
  • Supported efforts to identify the range of options available for housing the components of the NVC and to identify options that would meet the FGDC needs for vegetation data.
  • Continued to develop the cyber infrastructure to support the NVC, specifically the Hierarchy Browser search capability. Also, through support to the Ecological Society of America Vegetation Panel, continued to maintain a public archive for vegetation records in vegbank.org.
  • Hosted a fieldtrip at the Society for Range Management Annual Meeting in San Jose, California, to sites illustrating important range management issues, and hosted a booth at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) Conference in August 2015.
  • Endorsed the publication of “A Shared Vision for the California Survey of Vegetation” as a project consistent with the NVC standard and hierarchy. This project was funded with a NSDI Cooperative Agreements Program grant to the California Native Plant Society and the California Department of Fish and Game to establish linkages between the alliances recognized in the Manual of California Vegetation and alliances of the NVC, www.fgdc.gov/grants/2012CAP/projects/G12AC20142.
  • The Forest Service Existing Vegetation Classification, Mapping, and Inventory Technical guide (Version 2.0) was published after substantial input from the FGDC Vegetation Committee and ESA Vegetation Panel members. The endorsement from the FGDC Vegetation Subcommittee showed that the project and publication was consistent with the FGDC Vegetation Standard. The guide is available at www.fs.fed.us/emc/rig/protocols/vegclassmapinv.shtml.
  • Secured new funding through an interagency agreement (USFS/USGS) for the Ecological Society of America’s Vegetation Classification Panel to continue their work in vegetation classification and education.
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