Information Resources and Technology Management

Classification System: Vegetation Classification Data Standard

You are invited to read the definitions of terms used in this data standard.

Classification of Vegetation Data Standard
The National Vegetation Classification System (NVCS) was circulated for review by the Federal Geographic Data Committee. This standard has been tested by the National Biological Survey, the National Park Service, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at various locations. It was originally proposed by UNESCO, has been adopted and updated by the Nature Conservancy, and is being used in the GAP program.
Historical Data

The usefulness of a standard method for classifying and mapping vegetation has been apparent to natural resource agencies for some time. The problem has been to agree on a standard in as diverse an area as vegetation in the United States. The National Wetland Inventory maps form the wetland vegetation standard, and have been a model for a terrestrial standard. The classification is performed in layers; both land forms and vegetation are used.


Memo from Director adopting NVCS in the Service.

NPS Vegetation Mapping Program A good overview of the vegetation standard, applications on several National Parks and related data and other products.

FGDC Vegetation Subcommittee Home Page This is the official FGDC site. You can get the complete standard here and review the history of the process.

National Plants Database The Natural Resources Conservation Service maintains a searchable on-line database that provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories.

NatureServe site with information on Ecosystem Mapping: including the NVCS system and their newer Ecological Classification project.

Use Instructions
The actual standard only requires classification to the formation level (for example Vegetated, tree-dominated, forest, deciduous cold-decidous, Lowland and submontane broad-leaved cold-deciduous). The classification system goes two steps farther through the Alliance and Association levels (in the same example this could be Acer rubrum-Nyssa sylvatica (wetland) Forest alliance, Acer rubrum/Nyssa sylvatica/Magnolia virginian Forest association). While most offices agree that the Alliance and Association levels are most useful on a refuge scale, that compounds the cost problem. Because of the above issues staff in a several offices are testing other systems, in particular NatureServe's Ecological Systems which is related to the NVCS. It is possible in the future that there will be several tiers of vegetation and/or land use classification standards needed to meet various management and planning activities in FWS.
Approval Date
August 26, 1998
Validation Date
January 18, 2011
Point of Contact
Chief Data Officer


Last updated: May 9, 2019