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Friday, September 9, 2011

Adventures in Truth… Ground Truth, That Is.


Armed with maps and a camera, my mother and I set off to the Olympic National Forest. More than just hikers in the woods, on this excursion we were ground truthers assisting the Wild Olympics Campaign. We envisioned ourselves as detectives, in search of five decommissioned or to-be-decommissioned road segments. Our mission: to photograph and document the status of old legacy logging roads, which are proposed to be included in potential wilderness areas. Our camera battery was charged and water bottles filled to the brim – nothing could stop our fact-finding mission!

Only – we never found the road segments. Charting our location on the map, we slowly followed the gravel road, keeping our eyes peeled for the brown Forest Service road markers. We retraced our steps – to no avail. Not only were road markers absent, we couldn’t even find evidence there ever were road segments leading off the main road. Even as someone trained in GIS, I couldn’t see a single piece of evidence that these roads had ever existed, aside from the black lines demarcated on the original map.

Although we were slightly disappointed about our inability to find and document the road segments, our sleuthing work did provide some important information. The point of ground truthing is to provide on-the-ground data, which cannot be determined from maps. By completing the ground truthing process, Washington Wilderness Coalition can better ensure that the boundaries of the proposed Wilderness areas in the Wild Olympics campaign are accurate and defendable. By designating wildlands as official Wilderness areas, the land will receive the highest form of federal protection for land.

Generally, Wilderness areas are roadless, with minimal human presence, provide recreational opportunities, and have features of scenic, ecological, educational or other significance. However, the Wild Olympics proposal is looking to include a select group of targeted roads, which are slated by the Forest Service to be decommissioned or converted to trail, in order to stitch fragmented landscapes together. In some cases, as we found out, what appears as solid lines on a map are actually long ago reclaimed roads or trail conversions.

Sherlock Holmes and Watson couldn’t have done a better job than my mom and me. You can’t document something that doesn’t exist. The forest has grown over the decommissioned roads, taking back its right to the land, further proving the strength of the natural world and proving its worth of a Wilderness designation.

Mission: COMPLETED!

To learn more about the Wild Olympics Campaign, go here.

If you would like to participate in a Ground Truthing mission, please contact Katie Clifford at katie@wawild.org.

Sarah Gruen is WWC's summer wildlands research intern. She completed her degree in geography at UW last year and has been with WWC since June.

Picture caption: While we didn’t find the road segments, we did find a road that had been decommissioned and converted to trail. Here I am at the stunning, 130-foot Murhut Falls!

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