Protect the Earth

Driving awareness of environmental issues

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Grassroots activism through mapping

Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL) is a community group in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains that formed after local residents received a legal notice and black and white map in their mailboxes.

The map was prepared by a local logging firm and sent by the San Jose Water Company, which owns about 6,000 acres of watershed land in the region. The watershed provides drinking water to local residents as well as to over 100,000 Silicon Valley inhabitants. It also contains the county's largest remaining stand of coastal redwood forest.

Many residents were puzzled by the map, which offered no clear distinction between roads, topographic contour lines and the plan area. It was so difficult to understand that many people simply threw it away.

Hoping to better understand the potential issues, NAIL member Rebecca Moore remapped the logging plan to portray the proposal on top of 3D high-resolution satellite imagery. She obtained digital parcel data from the county planning department and imported this into Google Earth. Using placemarks, Rebecca designated plan elements such as the proposed helicopter landing pads near schools, daycare centers, and homes, as well as where mountain water companies drew drinking water from the creek. She also added geo-located photos of old-growth redwoods that could be cut and wildlife sightings, including osprey and beavers.

Logging plan notification and map received by local residents.

"I thought I was well-informed regarding SJWC's application to log the watershed above Lexington. But I nearly fell off my chair when I had a good look at Rebecca Moore's Google Earth presentation of the logging zone. This three-dimensional presentation gave an amazing topographic bird's eye view of how invasive the logging will be." -- Letter to the Editor, Mountain Network News, by resident Lisa Sgarlato

At NAIL’s first community meeting, Rebecca presented a virtual flight up the Los Gatos Creek canyon, illustrating the steep, narrow mountain roads that would be burdened with a dozen 90,000-pound logging trucks per day, navigating more than 30 blind curves where children walk to school. Viewers could even fly to the actual locations and see photos of old-growth redwoods that could be lost.

The flyover electrified the room. Suddenly everyone began to call out issues, questions and concerns. Two years later, the California Department of Forestry ruled that logging plan ineligible. Rebecca’s pioneering work was a victory for environmental advocacy, and also showed that Google Earth can increase public awareness of community issues and facilitate real social change.

Watch a flyover of the logging proposal elements remapped in Google Earth.