USDA Forest Service

Forest Inventory and Analysis National Program


Forest Inventory & Analysis
National Office
U.S. Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-0003

(703) 605-4177

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National Woodland Owner Survey

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the National Woodland Owner Survey?

In 1994, there were an estimated 10,000,000 private woodland owners in the United States. The USDA Forest Service's National Woodland Owner Survey is an annual survey of these individuals and organizations that own over two-thirds of the woodland in the U.S. The purpose of this survey is "to increase our understanding of private woodland owners - the critical link between forests and society." In free societies, such as our own, it is the landowners who ultimately decide how a given piece of land will be used. But landowners are a part of a larger social fabric that has written rules and unwritten norms about how land should be used. The survey creates a dialogue between landowners and the rest of society so that needs and concerns of the landowners can be heard and addressed.

What is the history of the National Woodland Owner Survey?

Surveys of private woodland owners began in earnest in United States following World War II. The first survey work was concentrated in New England and the Lake States, but soon spread to other parts of the U.S. Initially, universities were the primary institutions conducting these surveys, but soon federal and state agencies began implementing landowner surveys as well. The first national woodland owner survey was conducted by the USDA Forest Service in 1978 and was subsequently followed by another national survey in 1994.

How often is the National Woodland Owner Survey conducted?

The National Woodland Owner Survey is now being conducted on an annual basis; every year, we are contacting more forest-land owners from across the United States. It will take us 5 to 10 years to complete the current cycle of ownership surveys in a state. Landowners will be asked to fill-out a questionnaire no more than once during a state's inventory cycle. The implementation plan for the National Woodland Owner Survey after the initial base-line surveys are completed is still being developed.

What types of questions are asked?

The eight sections of the survey ask questions related to:

  • The general characteristics of the landowner's woodland;
  • Reasons for why they own woodland;
  • How they use their woodland;
  • If their woodland is managed, how is it managed;
  • How landowners learn about their woodland;
  • The landowner's concerns about using their woodland;
  • Intended future uses of their land; and
  • Some general demographic information.

How will the data collected be used?

All information provided by respondents to the National Woodland Owner Survey is held in strict confidentiality. By law, no information is allowed to be released to anyone - be they another government agency or a private citizen - that can be used to identify an individual who provides information to the Survey. The information collected will only be used to produce statistical reports of general trends in landowner attributes.

Groups that will use this data range from the Congress of the United States to local landowner groups and forestry consultants. Government agencies use the information collected by the National Woodland Owner Survey to design programs to assist landowners and to allocate funds once the programs are initiated. At more local levels, the information is used to understand the people that own the forest resources in area so that local groups and service providers can better communicate and understand the views of the woodland owner community.

Why are questions about demographics, such as age and race, asked? How are these data used?

The demographic questions asked in this survey are used to help assess the state of the forests of our country. For example, one of the major issues facing private forests in this country is the aging of the forest landowners with nearly a third of the landowners being over 65 years old. As landowners age, the incentive for them to perform certain activities on their land, such as planting trees, changes and the probability that their land will be changing hands increases. In addition, this information is used to make sure that programs designed to help forest landowners are accessible to everyone. For example federal and state forest agencies will know if a segment of the forest landowner population, be they an age, economic, or a minority group, are not receiving forestry assistance and can then redesign their programs to over-come these shortcomings.

How does this information help forest landowners?

As alluded to above, the National Woodland Owner Survey helps private woodland owners in myriad ways. On a broad scale, it helps create a dialogue between landowners and the rest of society. Although individual landowners and landowner organizations do communicate with the rest of society on a regular basis, having scientific information pertaining to this important and diverse group of people has proven to be a very effective communication tool. From a political perspective, this information helps politicians and government agencies quantify trends in woodland ownership and design programs that meet the needs of both the landowners and the broader needs of society. In particular, the information from this survey is used to allocate funding for various landowner assistance programs. The private sector also finds this information useful be they consulting foresters providing services to the landowners or large corporations that need to know what types of products they can expect to receive from private lands.

USDA Forest Service
Last Modified: July 31, 2015

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