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Making soil health a part of rangeland management

Joel R. Brown, Jeffrey E. Herrick
Journal of soil and water conservation 2016 v.71 no.3 pp. 55A-60A
aggregate stability, cost effectiveness, databases, ecosystems, environmental health, health effects assessments, inventories, monitoring, probability, quantitative analysis, range management, rangeland soils, rangelands, soil aggregates, soil quality, vegetation
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.