National Resource Inventory (NRI)

contributed by Jeffrey Gillan

General Description

The National Resource Inventory (NRI) is a statistical survey of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on all U.S. non-federal lands. The NRI program serves as the Federal Government’s principle source of information on natural resources in the United States. Every 5 years, the NRI assesses the current status and trend in land cover/use, erosion rates, wetlands, and conservation practices. The program is administered by Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in cooperation with Iowa State University Statistical Laboratory.


Collection of natural resource data began in the 1930s in response to drought and severe soil erosion on American farms. Over the years, the program has evolved in complexity, statistical considerations, and resources monitored. The NRI has increased in scope to include data on ecological communities and environmental quality in addition to data specifically on agricultural.


Most sampling throughout the country uses the Public Land Survey (PLS) system. The national sample is a stratified two-stage unequal probability area sample. The first stage is selecting primary sampling units (PSU) which are usually quarter-sections (0.5 x 0.5 miles, 64.75 ha). Six quarter-sections are selected in each township (6 miles x 6 miles) as PSUs. The second stage of sampling is selecting 3 sample points in each PSU which is conducted according to restricted randomization. In parts of the country where the PLS was not implemented, other grid systems such as latitude and longitude or universal transverse mercator are used. Sampling across the USA generally ranges from 2 to 6% of non-federal lands. The 1992 survey sampled 307,468 PSUs and 800,000 points.

Data Collection

Methods for data collection have evolved over the years with the changing needs of the program. Currently the program relies heavily on aerial photo interpretation, other remote sensing materials, county office records, soil survey maps, and wetland inventory maps. Field studies are conducted to obtain data not easily gathered using remote sensing techniques. Different land cover/use categories have different resources and thus require different methods to measure them. Specific protocols for the survey can be found here.

NRI Rangeland Resource Assessment

  • Rangeland is a land cover/use category that requires special data collection protocols, most of which are gathered in the field, as opposed to remotely.
  • Rangeland is defined by the NRI “on which the climax or potential plant cover is composed principally of native grasses, grasslike plants, forbs, or shrubs suitable for grazing and browsing, and introduced forage species that are managed like rangeland. This includes areas where introduced hardy and persistent grasses, such as crested wheatgrass, are planted and such practices as deferred grazing, burning, chaining, and rotational grazing are used, with little or no chemicals or fertilizer being applied. Grasslands, savannas, many wetlands, some deserts, and tundra are considered to be rangeland. Certain communities of low forbs and shrubs, such as mesquite, chaparral, mountain shrub, and pinyon-juniper, are also included as rangeland”.
  • Rangelands make up 21% of total area in the lower 48 states.
  • NRI rangeland on-site data has been collected in 17 western states, encompassing those states from North Dakota to Texas and west.
  • Between 2003 and 2006 data was collected data at 10,000-11,000 rangeland sample locations.
  • Erosion rates are estimated by gathering field data and feeding them into rhem and wind_erosion_model_wemo
  • The NRI assessment should be used by land managers and other policy makers to support decisions regarding sustainable use and restoration of degraded rangelands.
  • In 2011, the NRI protocol for rangelands was expanded to include land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
  • More information on NRI rangelands assessment can be found here

Field Methods Used at NRI Rangeland Sites


NRI homepage:

Iowa State University Statistical Laboratory

Goebel, J. J. (1998). The National Resources Inventory and its Role in U.S. Agriculture, Agriculture Statistics 2000, Proceedings of the conference on agricultural statistics organized by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the US Department of Agriculture, under the auspices of the International Statistical Institute.

Herrick, J. E., V. Lessard, K. E. Spaeth, P. Shaver, R. S. Dayton, D. A. Pyke, L. Jolley, and J. J. Goebel (2010). National ecosystem assessments supported by scientific and local knowledge. Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment, 8(8), 403-408.

Nusser, S. M. and J. J. Goebel (1997). The national resource inventory: a long-term multi-resource monitoring programme. Environmental and Ecological Statistics, 4(3): 181-204.

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