Salmon and Clear-Cutting: The Devastating Costs of Bad Data in California

In the open data and open government communities, we like to talk up the benefits of open innovation and private sector application development when governments open up data in structured formats. The cost of not doing so is huge, too. When data cannot be easily analyzed, lost dollars in public policy mistakes can easily reach tens of million at a time.

This is one of the challenges we're taking on at the CityCampSF Hackathon next weekend.Ā 

In California, lengthy timber harvest plans are published by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to an obscure FTP server as several unsearchable PDFs for each report. This means the extensive information contained in these logging industry reports is useless in terms of data analysis.

The impact here is huge. Right now, the California and U.S. governments are spending $128 million to restore salmon in Battle Creek, which collects runoff from the west slope of Lassen Peak (Battle Creek watershed map).

Here's an overhead view of Lassen Peak from Google Maps:

Lassen_Peak.png

And here's what happens when you zoom in on the west side of the Peak. The quilted pattern is timber clear cuts.

clea_cutting_west_of_Lassen_Peak.png

Is California allowing massive deforestation and increased runoff of industrial pollutants and loose soils into Battle Creek at the same time it is spending $128 million to restore salmon habitats there? Without good data, it's almost impossible to know. (For more background, see "Clear-cutting, death and madness" in the Redding Record Searchlight.)

Next weekend at CityCampSF, we'll be working on a project to imagine how applying open data principles to timber harvest plans would allow for clear analysis of logging impacts to habitats in California. Forests Forever, a conversation group based in San Francisco, will use our work as part of a campaign to legislate an open structured format for these reports.

Is bad data leading to the waste of tens of millions of dollars by California and the feds?

Join us at the CityCampSF Hackathon next weekend and help us find out. The event is open to physical and remote participation.

Update (12/05/11): Paul Hughes, executive director of Forest Forever, points out that Ā XML online Timber Harvest Plans will expose data re: all clearcutting now going on in California, including in the Cascades, Shasta/Modoc Plateau region, and North Coast and Central Coast, in addition to the Sierra Nevadas. Also, here's the Sacramento Bee's story on Battle Creek restoration efforts and the possible effects of nearby logging.

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