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

Printz, Jeffrey L., Toledo, David, Boltz, Stanley C.
ARS USDA Submissions 2014 v.69 no.3 pp. 73A
biogeochemical cycles, ecosystem services, ecosystems, energy flow, hydrologic cycle, inventories, rangeland soils, rangelands, soil productivity, soil quality, soil treatment, Great Plains region
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.