Small Area Estimates for National Applications: A Database to Dashboard Strategy Using FIESTA

By Tracey S. Frescino, Kelly S. McConville, Grayson W. White, J. Chris Toney, and Gretchen G. Moisen

May 25, 2022


This paper demonstrates a process for translating a database of forest measurements to interactive dashboards through which users can access statistically defensible estimates and analyses anywhere in the conterminous US. It taps the extensive Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plot network along with national remotely sensed data layers to produce estimates using widely accepted model-assisted and small area estimation methodologies. It leverages a decade’s worth of statistical and computational research on FIA’s flexible estimation engine, FIESTA, and provides a vehicle through which scientists and analysts can share their own tools and analytical processes. This project illustrates one pathway to moving statistical research into operational inventory processes, and makes many model-assisted and small area estimators accessible to the FIA community. To demonstrate the process, continental United States (CONUS)-wide model-assisted and small area estimates are produced for ecosubsections, counties, and level 5 watersheds (HUC 10) and made publicly available through R Shiny dashboards. Target parameters include biomass, basal area, board foot volume, proportion of forest land, cubic foot volume, and live trees per acre. Estimators demonstrated here include: the simplest direct estimator (Horvitz–Thompson), model-assisted estimators (post-stratified, generalized regression estimator, and modified generalized regression estimators), and small area estimators (empirical best linear unbiased predictors and hierarchical Bayes both at the area- and unit-level). Auxiliary data considered in the model-assisted and small area estimators included maps of tree canopy, tree classification, and climatic variables. Estimates for small domain sets were generated nationally within a few hours. Exploring results across estimators and target variables revealed the progressive gains in precision using (in order of least gain to highest gain) Horvitz–Thompson, post-stratification, modified generalized regression estimators, generalized regression estimators, area-level small area models, and unit-level small area models. Substantive gains are realized by expanding model-assisted estimators beyond post-stratification, allowing FIA to continue to take advantage of design-based inference in many cases. Caution is warranted in the use of unit-level small area models due to model mis-specification. The dataset of estimates available through the dashboards provides the opportunity for others to compare estimators and explore precision expectations over specific domains and geographic regions. The dashboards also provide a forum for future development and analyses.


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Posted on:
May 25, 2022
2 minute read, 378 words
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