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MIFI wrapping up work, to start new inventory

The Mississippi Institute for Forest Inventory (MIFI) is closing in on its primary mission — to give a ground-level view of just what the Magnolia State has to offer in terms of forested land. Soon, however, it will be time to do it all over again.

Established by the Legislature, MIFI is charged with developing and implementing a continuous, statewide forest resource inventory necessary for the sustainable forest-based economy, while also being responsible for effective distribution and management of forest inventory-based information for economic and public policy development.

The MIFI has analyzed all of the regions of the state except the Delta, and the organization hopes to have it completed in April 2009. Of course, this is a moving target. The MIFI is expecting to immediately begin mapping out the state anew after April. That is if funding is available – the organization currently depends on state money and grants to fuel its work. Still, MIFI is enthused with how the work has gone thus far.

“We are pleased. We have done what the Legislature charged us to do,” said MIFI executive director Wayne Tucker.

Feet on the ground

Tucker said the roots of the MIFI go back to the 1990s and a group of forestry leaders who felt the state needed a thorough, ground-level evaluation of forested land.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has long conducted such an inventory, but Tucker said there were two issues. One, the USFS’ work is from the “100,000-foot level” — a great, statewide picture, but not good when seeking info from county to county. And at that time, USFS was not planning on doing another inventory in the near future, and the leaders felt they could not wait for that to happen.

So, they struck on the idea of commissioning an extensive, county-by-county forest inventory with the latest data possible. In 1999, they took their views to the Legislature and won over lawmakers. MIFI was established the following year.

The first step was conducting a pilot program through Mississippi State University (MSU) (another pilot program was also conducted in Texas) to see if the concept would work. It proved successful, and MIFI was off and running.

Tucker, a native of Oklahoma, was hired in late 2003, and the inventory began in earnest in 2004. Leaning heavily on the resources of MSU and farming out work to contractors, the MIFI, which is still a two-man operation, is now on the threshold of accomplishing its immediate mission.

High-tech tools

Though the MIFI is looking to give a ground-level view of the state’s forest inventory, it is far from low-tech. It utilizes satellite imagery and state-of-the-art software extensively. Satellite imagery is used to classify land — is it open, pines, hardwood or mix, etc. The software then does the “leg work,” verifying ground plots to give a more accurate picture of just what forestland has to offer place to place.

The software is sophisticated and requires some serious hardware to drive it. The last computer MIFI purchased contained two terabytes of memory. This allows MIFI to give data, at the county level, of +/-15 percent at a 95 percent accuracy level.

“When companies use our data when going to investor bankers, the bankers just accept our data because they know it is accurate,” Tucker said. “They can go on and talk about loan repayment and other things because the data is seen as solid.”

Growing importance

The work of MIFI is never done, and the importance of its work never diminishes, Tucker said. In fact, its work is growing in importance as the state gets a handle on just what sources are available for biofuel production.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.


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