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A newly released Tree Canopy Cover product adds a helpful layer of information to the definitive land cover product National Land Cover Database (NLCD), generated at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in partnership with other agencies.

Tree Canopy Cover (TCC) can be valuable for helping monitor the current extent and dynamics of treed lands, regardless of the forest definition used. For example, it is used to examine watershed conditions, to make scenario-based projections of future canopy cover, and as input to i-Tree, an urban forestry tool that helps users understand their current tree cover and plan for new tree plantings, said the USDA Forest Service’s Karen Schleeweis, who is the TCC science lead.

Some cities or organizations have access to high resolution data, such as lidar, to provide tree canopy cover data for specific areas at specific times, but not all can afford it. The TCC benefits from the use of Landsat satellite imagery collected continually over the entire landscape, Schleeweis said.

The TCC data are available for the conterminous United States at the same intervals as the NLCD land cover data between 2011 and 2021: 2011, 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2021. The data are produced within a time-series framework, so change is now inherent in the annual time steps, with a minimum of 10% gain or loss of canopy cover in a 30 meter pixel to indicate change.

The annual time steps represent significant progress in the product, Schleeweis said. “We'll be able to serve a whole new group of users who are trying to understand and monitor continuous tree canopy cover through time.”

A horizontal stack of annual tree cover mapping for about 13 years
A representation of the Tree Canopy Cover data for 2008-2021. Courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

A new, related Science TCC data set is a derivative of the NLCD TCC production workflow and also has an annual, though longer, time-series: 2008-2021.  These data sets are produced under the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics (MRLC) Consortium, a group of federal agencies—including the USGS and Forest Service—who coordinate and generate consistent and relevant land cover information at the national scale.

Similar NLCD TCC and Science TCC data sets for coastal Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and American Virgin Islands will be available in the summer of 2023. 

“What our data set offers is a consistent data set across the country that really can benefit a lot of users,” Schleeweis said.

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