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Feb 23 -- The Forest Service, USDA, invites comments to OMB by March 25, 2024 regarding the 2024-2028 National Woodland Owner Survey.

The terms forestland and woodland are used interchangeably in this document; woodland is the more commonly used term by landowners and forestland is the more commonly used term by natural resource professionals. There are an estimated 704 million acres of forestland across the United States, excluding interior Alaska.  More than half of this land is privately owned by 10 million private ownerships. The remaining forestland is managed by over a thousand federal, state, and local government agencies, and tribal organizations.  How the forests are used is ultimately the decision of the owners and managers of the forestland, operating within legal, economic, and other constraints.  To better understand this critical link in the forest system, the USDA Forest Service requests permission to survey owners and managers of forestland on why they own/manage their land, how they use it, and what they intend to do with it.  The ongoing collection provides vital, up-to-date information on these topics.

The main authority for this collection is the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974. The Act states that the Forest Service is tasked with “assessing the Nation's renewable resources” and this “must be based on a comprehensive assessment of present and anticipated uses, demand for, and supply of renewable resources from the Nation's public and private forests.” A “comprehensive assessment” and a statement that “the majority of the Nation's forests and rangeland is under private, State, and local governmental management and the Nation's major capacity to produce goods and services is based on these nonfederally managed renewable resources, the Federal Government should be a catalyst to encourage and assist these owners in the efficient long-term use and improvement of these lands and their renewable resources consistent with the principles of sustained yield multiple use”. The USDA Forest Service interprets the above provisions to call for studies aimed at understanding land ownership patterns and the attitudes and behaviors of owners and manager. A survey of owners and managers was deemed appropriate for meeting this mandate. This was reaffirmed in the 2014 Farm Bill which included a statement directing the Forest Inventory and Analysis program, which implements the National Woodland Owner Survey, to provide an “increased understanding . . . of the over 10,000,000 family forest owners, their demographics, and the barriers to forest stewardship.”

Data from the National Woodland Owner Survey will be used by federal and state forestry agencies, academics, private consultants, landowners, non-governmental organizations, and other groups interested in understanding the owners and managers of forestland in the United States. This information will be used to describe ownership patterns in national reports, such as Forest Resources of the United States, 2017, and it will be included in many state-level forest resource reports. Federal and state agencies use this information to design, implement, and monitor forestry assistance programs, such as the USDA Forest Service's Forest Stewardship Program. Forestry consultants, non-governmental organizations, and the forest industry use this information to make strategic planning decisions, such as where to site new biomass processing facilities, what services to offer, or where to concentrate conservation efforts. Extension agents and other educators use the information to design educational materials and programs. University and other researchers use the data for a myriad of reasons, ranging from assessments of minority landowners to factors influencing participation rates.

For the next iteration of the NWOS, the Forest Service proposes the continued use of the long, short, and urban forms; the use of revised state-specific, science modules, and large corporate forms; and new use of the Islands, Tribal, and public forms.  The long form most closely matches surveys from past iterations of NWOS and forms the basis for all other forms.  Most private rural owners will receive the full long form survey.  A subset of private rural owners as described below, may receive either a state-specific version of the survey or one of the science modules.  These are based on the short form survey, which is a subset of the long form, with additional questions, but designed so there is not more respondent burden than the long form.  

Science modules are intended to focus more intensely on a specific theme, including afforestation, agroforestry, carbon, climate change, cross-boundary cooperation, decision making, energy (solar/wind), heirs’ property, invasive species, land transfer, landowner values, rapid assessment of significant event, sense of place, timber, wellbeing, and wildfire.  Because not all issues are relevant for all regions of the country, the state-specific forms will allow for questions to be asked in particular states. Residents of selected U.S. affiliated protectorates and territories will receive the Islands survey.
Per direction of the 2014 Farm Bill (Section 8301), the Forest Inventory and Analysis program is expanding into urban areas.  As part of these efforts, landowners with green space in designated urban areas will receive a survey focused on topics relevant to their land.

Large corporate forest owners will receive a version of the survey that excludes questions that are not relevant to them, such as demographics, and addresses other issues that are more relevant to these types of ownerships.  Small corporate rural owners will receive the base long form survey. A separate survey will go out to a sample of public land managers.  

The objective of these different forms is to collect comparable information that is most relevant to different types of owners in different areas and collect information on an array of relevant topics without putting undue burden on any one respondent.

In addition to the quantitative data collected through these survey instruments, focus groups and cognitive interviews will also be utilized.  The focus groups will be used for initial exploration of new topics, such as the science modules.  The cognitive interviews will be used to test survey instruments. In addition, cognitive interviews with tribal populations will contribute to participatory action research goals.

NWOS: https://www.fia.fs.usda.gov/nwos/
FS submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202211-0596-005 Click IC List for information collection instrument, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation. Submit comments through this webpage.
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2024-03748

For AEA members wishing to submit comments, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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