Oh, Google, what would we ever do without you? Check out this Google Maps-generated image of the region near Cannon Beach, Oregon:

 cannon clearcut

The strange patchwork of brown? Those are clearcuts in the Coast Range. And many of them appear to be recent.

What’s really great is that you can zoom in so close that you can clearly see the bulldozed logging roads, a line of "leave trees," and a striated green that I’m guessing is first season re-growth of vegetation:

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clearcut closeup

I’ll bet some tech-savvy map-genius type could collate enough Googe Map images together to do a systematic analysis of clearcutting. I could imagine starting in just one region — perhaps a single Oregon county — or expanding the analysis to include a large swath of the Pacific Northwest or even North America.

Why am I so fascinated by this?

Because back in the day we used satellite images to monitor clearcutting around Cascadia. We made pretty nifty maps — some of them animated — showing 30 years of cutting. Here’s one that we made for a section of the southern Oregon coast.

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southern oregon

All that red shows clearcutting since the early 1970s. And, yes, it’s a lot of clearcutting.

These maps made a bit of a splash, and we were intending to update them every year or two. But then the imagery from the satellite became defective; and rather than fix the satellite, the U.S. government opted to redeploy the money to the Mars space program (at least that was the word at the time).

We were bummed out.

But with the wealth of imagery available from Google Maps (not to mention Google Earth), it seems almost possible to use Google’s free public images to construct a new and ongoing analysis that would track clearcutting as often as the images are updated. By calculating acreages it should be possible to develop an ongoing forestry score — with supplementary pictures! — to show how logging practices are actually happening. No doubt there would be some technical issues to sort out, but I don’t think it’s anything that some tech-savvy map-genius type couldn’t handle.

Anyway, it’s intriguing stuff.

Credit for this post really belongs with Clark; he came up with the idea.