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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: New technologies to enhance sustainability of northern Great Plains grasslands

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: Rangeland health assessment - The key to understanding and assessing rangeland soil health in the Northern Great Plains

Authors
item Printz, Jeff -
item Toledo, David
item Boltz, Stan -

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 11, 2014
Publication Date: May 1, 2014
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/59046
Citation: Printz, J., Toledo, D.N., Boltz, S. 2014. Rangeland health assessment - The key to understanding and assessing rangeland soil health in the Northern Great Plains. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 69(3):73A-77A.

Interpretive Summary: The USDA has placed and increased emphasis on soil health and has developed a set of key principles to soil health: 1. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil. 2. Manage soils more by disturbing them less. 3. Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil. 4. Keep the soil covered as much as possible. These soil health principles were developed primarily for agricultural systems yet they are relevant to all soils and therefore also apply to rangelands. However, there are concerns regarding the application of these four soil health principles to rangeland ecology and management. This paper will attempt to clarify how each of these soil health principles applies to rangeland ecology and describe how existing science based inventory and assessment protocols can be used to assess not only the health of the rangeland soil resource but also the overall health of the rangeland resource.

Technical Abstract: As the science related to soil and rangeland health evolves, so do their protocols and assessment methodologies. Rangeland health assessments consist of evaluating how well ecological processes such as the water cycle, energy flow and nutrient cycling are functioning at a site. Soil health is the capacity of a soil to maintain its function and flow of ecosystem services given a specific set of physical, chemical and environmental boundaries. When soil health deteriorates, its capacity to support and regulate ecosystems is diminished affecting energy flows, nutrient cycling, and productivity among others. Soil health principles have been developed primarily for agricultural systems yet they are relevant to all soils and therefore also apply to rangelands. However, there are concerns regarding the application of soil health principles to rangeland ecology and management amongst resource professionals and managers of private/public rangelands. This paper will attempt to clarify how each of these principles applies to rangeland ecology and describe how existing science based inventory protocols can be used to assess not only the health of the rangeland soil resource but also the overall health of the rangeland resource. Our approach consists in explaining how each of the 4 soil principles listed above is relevant to rangeland health and we list the indicators of rangeland health that each soil health principle is related to.

Last Modified: 11/28/2014
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