Idaho's massive checkerboard forest seen from the Space Station

Originally published at:


Spookily, those squares are actually all the same colour.


Since it takes the ISS, 92 minutes to orbit around earth: can we move chess pieces, big enough to be distinctively seen from space, fast enough to play a turn at every revolution?

Edit: Apparently, that’s not the ISS works… :disappointed:


Can’t fool me.

That’s Civilization IV.


Easily. Use hot air balloons as chess pieces, with a symbol of what piece it represents on the top of the balloon.


They don’t overfly the same spot on each orbit, as the Earth turns beneath the station.


I’ll admit that’s cool, but it’s way more impressive that they were able to see the labels from space.

Must be San Francisco.


Damn it! There goes my Guinness world record!


What you need is the same method of forest management being done around the Equator, and then a space station up at GEO looking down.


Perfect: Elon Musk vs. Hugo Drax.


The checkerboard is used as a method of maintaining the sustainability of forested tracts while still enabling a harvest of trees

It’s a lovely theory, but there’s nothing sustainable about it. The checkerboard pattern maximizes edge effects in the forest canopy- the corners have completely different characteristics from the center of the square. Species diversity is kept at a minimum this way, it’s not so much “forest” as monoculture cropland. If they wanted to optimize for anything other than short term profits, they’d be managing watersheds, not squares on a map.


I noticed something like this when I was researching a trip up highway 32 north of Chico, California. Take a look at this google earth map. It’s definitely not checkerboard, but it sure is spotty. My assumption is the same, that it’s for logging “sustainably”.

Funny thing is, you don’t notice any of this from the road.

1 Like

I don’t think any lumber company has thought of clear cutting as sustainable since the 60s / 70s. I grew up in a logging community and the big bald patches on local mountains were pointed out as “Things We Don’t Do Anymore”


No. It’s left-over land from the railroad ‘boom’.
Congress allocated 1 square mile '‘every other’ deeds to the railroads to ‘build’ railways.
California railways sold the land out in the 1980…Sierra-Pacific picked up ownership.

Gives the land the ‘checkerboard’ shape.

IMHO: Since the railroads had abandoned ownership…
either the Feds or California should have picked up ownership…
rather than selling to Lumber Companies and corporate ‘pocketing’ the revenue.

Nothing much you can do about it now.

After the “Timber Wars” of the 70’s and 80’s , California changed logging management rules so that timber harvests had more natural shapes often following contour lines or creeks and other natural features. They still clearcut but the plots appear like meadows or bald areas but they don’t look so man made in satellite photos. Look on Google maps at any forest in California compared to Oregon or Washington.

I think we have a different idea of “massive”. Google earth shows that little patch of checkerboard to be about 6x3 miles. In terms of Idaho’s forests, this is barely an oversized backyard.

These checkerboard patterns are (or at least used to be) all over northern Idaho. My understanding is that as forest management has advanced, there has been a long term project to do land swaps as the opportunities present themselves so as to consolidate the checkerboard into more coherent areas.

Also, it might be noted that according to this map the area photographed is owned by the state, which is constitutionally required to use its parcels to maximize revenue for public schools.

1 Like

Clearcutting is a tactic, these grids are a strategy. It’s strange to see these 19th century inventions held up as state of the art, when that’s clearly not the case. Washington state saw some pretty big land swaps specifically designed to eliminate the checkerboard, giving wildlife an unfragmented habitat to live in.


Here’s the google earth maps of the checkboard map (without snow):

1 Like

Funny story about that: timber revenues have become much less important to the overall economy over the past century, as other agriculture and tech concerns have heated up. But they haven’t updated the school funding sources to reflect this trend, leaving the whole setup politically vulnerable.