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September 2, 2016

Landsat gives us a view of the legacy of logging near the Redwood Parks in California.

EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish!

The initial view of the Redwood Parks, taken by Landsat 5 in 1984. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program.

The EarthView: Landsat Monitors 1,800-Year-Old Redwoods


Redwood National and State Parks in northern California are the embodiment of America's ongoing challenge to balance the country's economic interests against preserving its natural wilderness, protecting some forested lands while allowing for resource extraction elsewhere.

When gold was discovered in 1849, hundreds of thousands of people poured into California, and redwoods were logged extensively to meet the demand for lumber and other resources. Today only 4 percent of the old-growth forest and its 1,800-year-old trees remain, primarily along the coast. To stem that ongoing loss, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall successfully pushed to establish Redwood National Park in October 1968.

Landsat 8's view of the same area 32 years later. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program.

These Landsat images show logging's influence around the dark green protected forests. Many of the small pink spots in the lower left corner and across the right side of the 1984 scene are logging sites revealed through Landsat 5's Thematic Mapper sensor. In the 2016 Landsat 8 image, logging seems to have lessened overall, particularly as areas on the right side of the scene experience regrowth.

Today the majestic trees in Redwood Parks—some soaring as high as 30-story skyscrapers—are under the protection of the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centennial in August 2016. The NPS's mandate is to help preserve the future of the trees, some of which have been alive since the days of the Roman Empire. Landsat's continuous monitoring will help ensure it.

Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science.

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