Skip to main content


The US National Vegetation Classification (USNVC) provides a national, conceptual framework for classifying, inventorying, and studying both cultural and natural vegetation of the U.S. It provides a common language for the effective management and conservation of plant communities.

The USNVC federal Standard is a process standard. The standard itself does not contain a formal set of classification units, but rather outlines the process by which such units are to be described, peer reviewed, and maintained through various data-management and web tools. This means that the classification is dynamic, subject to change as vegetation scientists revise or newly describe vegetation types in the United States.

The vision for the Standard was that it would be:

  • Useful for conservation and resource management
  • Focused on classifying existing vegetation
  • Hierarchical, with upper levels based on physiognomy and lower levels based on floristics
  • Inclusive of both cultural and natural vegetation types
  • Built from publicly available plot data whenever possible
  • Revised through a peer review process

The hierarchy for the cultural types of the standard relies heavily on existing classification systems (FGDC 2008). The proposed pilot classification for the upper levels of the cultural hierarchy are based on the National Land Cover Dataset (USGS 2001) classes, while several of the lower levels are based on the Natural Resources Inventory, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRI 2003). The ESA Panel on Vegetation Classification plans to continue to work with the federal agencies to refine the classification of cultural types.

Currently much of the activity of the ESA Panel is focused on implementing a streamlined peer-review process for descriptions at all levels of the hierarchy and developing training and outreach materials for USNVC users.

If you are interested in participating in the review process please contact us.

For more details on these efforts, please see the Projects page.