(by William E. Zipse)

There are a number of useful software tools that are freely available for use in day to day forestry work. The Northeast Decision Model (NED) produced by the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, is one of these tools. NED includes tools for forest management planning and the analysis of forest inventory data such as inventory processing and reporting, growth and yield models, wildlife models and more.  The cutting edge version of NED is NED-3 which looks promising with a host of improvements and new features such as the ability for the user to specify board foot volume equations or even use their own volume tables.  NED-3 also offers better incorporation of existing USDA Forest Service models such as the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) and the venerable SILVAH model.  Although NED-3 is cutting edge, keep in mind that it is still in beta and may yet have a number of bugs.  So, if you are really curious about the newest version of NED and would like to test out some of its features, it is worth the download.  However, it is not a good idea to use software that is in beta for production.  If you are inclined to use NED for day-to-day work, NED-2 is that latest stable release of NED and may be the better choice for production, having been in service for a number of years.

5 NED icon

(graphic courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

NED-2 is versatile enough to support a number of inventory designs from traditional point samples or fixed radius plots to clustered sample plots with nested subplots for understory and ground cover and even nested transects. It incorporates some basic decision support tools and a growth model that can simulate a number of prescriptions and project your stand data into the future, much like the before mentioned FVS (NED-2 actually uses equations from FVS in order to project growth) albeit with fewer customization and simulation options.  NED-2 can be used to produce customizable data summary tables as well as a number of reports, including a statistical report that I frequently use in order to figure out if my sample adequately represents a stand attribute of interest at a given confidence interval.

Oddly, NED-2 seems to rely on the clipboard for cutting and pasting data in summary tables and HTML for reporting which can sometimes make using the program’s outputs in nicely formatted management plans rather clunky. The software also integrates with the USDA Forest Service’s well known Stand Visualization System (SVS) to produce graphical outputs of simulated data that can be useful for showing stakeholders and landowners, that don’t have forestry backgrounds, some nice visuals of the expected outcomes of forest management activities before the activities are actually put on the ground.  SVS graphics make a nice addition to traditional tables and graphs.

In conclusion, NED-2 provides a number of powerful tools with a less steep learning curve than some of its more complex counterparts in forest simulation modeling and decision support. NED-3 is out in beta for testing; however, NED-2 is the latest stable version of NED for production.  Although report formatting can be clunky, there are enough features in this free offering from the USDA Forest Service to make it a serious contender in professional inventory software.  In the future we can discuss some options for expanding and integrating forestry software and models in order to better support specific forest management needs.  To download a copy of NED or read more about it, visit the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station website at the following URL:  http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/tools/ned/