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Small-Area Estimation for the USDA Forest Service, National Woodland Owner Survey: Creating a Fine-Scale Land Cover and Ownership Layer to Support County-Level Population Estimates

Small area estimation is a powerful modeling technique in which ancillary data can be utilized to “borrow” additional information, effectively increasing sample sizes in small spatial, temporal, or categorical domains. Though more commonly applied to biophysical variables within the study of forest inventory analyses, small area estimation can also be implemented in the context of understanding social values, behaviors, and trends among types of forest landowners within small domains. Here, we demonstrate a method for deriving a continuous fine-scale land cover and ownership layer for the state of Delaware, United States, and an application of that ancillary layer to facilitate small-area estimation of several variables from the USDA Forest Service’s National Woodland Owner Survey. Utilizing a proprietary parcel layer alongside the National Land Cover Database, we constructed a continuous layer with 10-meter resolution depicting land cover and land ownership classes. We found that the National Woodland Owner Survey state-level estimations of total acreage and total ownerships by ownership class were generally within one standard error of the population values calculated from the raster layer, which supported the direct calculation of several population-level summary variables at the county levels. Subsequently, we compare design-based and model-based methods of predicting commercial harvesting by family forest ownerships in Delaware in which forest ownership acreage, taken from the parcel map, was utilized to inform the model-based approach. Results show general agreement between the two modes, indicating that a small area estimation approach can be utilized successfully in this context and shows promise for other variables, especially if additional variables, e.g., United States Census Bureau data, are also incorporated.
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