Early in the United States' history there was a desire to record and track the natural resources that the nation maintained, with the initial primary focus on timber supply. The earliest recorded large scale survey happened in 1830 as a statewide forest inventory of Massachusetts, and after the Civil War, as the country faced potential forest supply shortages, there was increased concern for monitoring these assets nationally. This prompted the 1874 Congressional recommendation of forming a Commissionership of Forestry to compile data on the national forest holdings. However, this and following attempts to create such a program failed to meet approval until 1905 when the Forest Service was formed under the U. S. Department of Agricultural.
From 1879 until the Forest Service's establishment in 1905, the U. S. Geological Survey gathered much of the forest type data for the country, as they mapped their way across the western states. The Forest Service however gathered much more information than just timber type estimates, focusing on the quantities of timber suitable for various uses, the current consumption of forest products, and the production of forests. In 1928, Congress passed the McSweeney- McNary Act which specifically instructed the USDA through the Forest Service to maintain current and comprehensive surveys of timber and other forest products on Federal, State, and private forest lands, to be reported to Congress every decade. With this act's passage the Forest Service created the Forest Inventory and Analysis program to not only inventory the present forest data but also look out 10 to 50 years into what could likely appear as time progresses.
While the sampling and analyzing methods surrounding the data collection and compilation have changed throughout history, there continues to be a large desire for these national inventory services. The program has shifted from a periodic, primarily timber-based survey to an annual survey that now includes information on soil, vegetation, tree crown conditions and much more with the goal of providing information for the assessment of the U. S. forests.
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