Documenting Projects with Photos

Massachusetts forester Mike Leonard recently posted a series of photos, each with descriptive text, of one of his projects:

I was thinking: The Forest Service ought to do the same thing to illustrate projects, from start to finish, and even years afterward. Maybe some districts have posted such photo records, but I’m not aware of any like Leonard’s. The agency puts so much effort into planning. Why not put some energy into documenting its work after all that planning?


  1. Or helping the public understand what a project is expected to look like after it’s done? I remember we had some litigation on the Bull Mountain Pipeline in which we had excellent photos in the material for the judge. Which is good, but it would be nice if the FS explained via photo to regular folks also.

    I’ll give a twelve-pack to the best District effort with photos in environmental documents that we can run down in the next month.

  2. USFS, once upon a time, did document some things with photo points, points that were recorded so future managers could go back in a decade or two and re-photo the site to note changes.
    This was a regular activity in the grazing program, at least in some regions/districts.
    I agree with the premise that the agency is too deep into planning, and I say that in spite of having spent most of my career as a “planner”. When I look back, it is sad to note how much of that effort was a waste of time.

  3. Of course that could cause a problem with some projects. Personnel at Coronado National Forest have been working for 7 years to get a hard-rock copper mine permitted that will destroy 33,000 mature trees–many century old oaks. At the present time, forty-four National Forest “Reserves” are being threatened with 170 projects in the West.
    Of course, if there was a photo-documentary of Summitville, Colorado perhaps that would help those of us who think that mining should be done in the vast wastelands that exist in the West instead of our National Forests.

  4. I recall Chris Liggett, R8 Planning Director, suggesting during the science panel or another early workshop for the new planning rule, that Forests and districts should use photos to illustrate desired conditions. Personally, I know we struggle with this in cases where desired conditions for some systems are currently rather limited, if they exist at all. However, I recently heard about a landscape artist in GA who is using paintings to illustrate desired conditions.

    Also, I know that many National Forests in R8 are conducting photomonitoring for controlled burn projects, especially those involved in the regional Fire Learning Networks.

  5. One of my earliest jobs (1944?) on the N.F.s in Texas was taking photo at established photo-points. One of my final tasks for the FS (as a volunteer, 1993) was re-occupying photo points (long abandoned) on the N.F.s in Florida Fascinating job and dramatic changes (stumps to sawtimber). Two of the points had red-cockaded woodpecker colonies. To my knowledge, there have been no photos taken at the Florida points since that time (20 years ago).

      • If those photos could be tracked down and shared online, that would speak volumes about how forests change and recover over time. We are hoping to do something like this with a small “silviculture library” project in the western Great Lakes states. I love the Facebook photos mentioned initially in the post. Our library would include more detailed case studies of good silviculture to promote resilience to uncertain future conditions. More targeted to professionals than landowners or the public, but it would all be publicly accessible.

        • Excellent idea, Mac. In addition to photos, how about 360-degree video from the plot center? With today’s high-def cameras, getting such “footage” would be easy. I have a ~$400 HD video camera that I regularly pack into the woods, which gets super sharp video.

  6. This is pretty much the basic idea behind the Douglas Complex-Rim Fire proposal that John Marker, Larry Harrell, others, and I have been promoting. The problem seems to be the shift from film and prints — which are expensive and difficult to share, much less file away for others to use — to digital photography and GPS referencing. If the photos can be located, then they can be scanned and put online easy enough — and probably should be, speaking as a taxpayer. Another problem is basic communications. The link that is posted goes to a Facebook page with only 77 “Likes” — which likely accounts for a large share of the poster’s friends, families, and work associates. Very few people can interpret aerial photos or satellite imagery with any degree of confidence, but almost everyone can readily understand clear, land-based photography, particularly when it is analyzed by someone using plain English to explain the imagery. As Steve suggests, this process should be implemented and made publicly available on virtually all USFS and BLM projects, and especially so for monitoring and assessing BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response, I think) projects.

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