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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #327394

Research Project: MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSERVATION OF WESTERN RANGELANDS

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Making soil health a part of rangeland management

Author
item Brown, Joel - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/9/2016
Publication Date: 5/1/2016
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/5695468
Citation: Brown, J., Herrick, J.E. 2016. Making soil health a part of rangeland management. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 71:55A-60A.

Interpretive Summary: Soil health describes the ability of a soil to function at its potential. This paper discusses the relationship between rangeland soil health, sustainability and meeting human needs through the provision of ecosystem services. It also reviews how soil health has been historically evaluated as part of the Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health protocol. It concludes that continued testing, and refinement, of these 17 indicators, and the associated quantitative methods, guided by site-specific reference sheets offers the greatest probability of gaining a systematic understanding of rangeland soil health. This attempt to improve the systematic understanding of rangeland soil health also requires an increased emphasis on the development of a common database for soil, vegetation and soil attributes derived from conservation program and technical assistance applications to refine the use of this approach.

Technical Abstract: Soil health describes the ability of a soil to function at its potential, specifically “The capacity of a soil to function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans”. The objectives of this paper are to 1) contextualize rangeland soil health by examining the common definition and how important concepts apply to rangelands, 2) review the recent progress and ongoing directions in applying soil and ecosystem health concepts to rangelands and 3) identify and better define opportunities to move soil health forward as an important part of rangeland management. Rangeland soil health assessment has a well-documented history and has continually improved (albeit sporadically) over the past 3 decades. We conclude, however, that these efforts need to expand to both new rangeland ecosystems and to new working groups. The existing approach to evaluation of rangeland soil health currently integrated into the Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health (IIRH) approach has been sufficiently tested to provide the most logical basis for future work. This protocol is closely linked to a standard set of quantitative measurements and indicators, including soil aggregate stability, that have been adopted for use by both the NRCS National Resource Inventory and by the BLM national Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring initiative. This is the most cost-effective means of gaining the necessary information to test and refine site-specific indicators. We conclude that continued testing, and refinement, of these 17 indicators, and the associated quantitative methods, guided by site-specific reference sheets offers the greatest probability of gaining a systematic understanding of rangeland soil health. This attempt to improve the systematic understanding of rangeland soil health also requires an increased emphasis on the development of a common database for soil, vegetation and soil attributes derived from conservation program and technical assistance applications to refine the use of this approach.