Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spotlight: WebSoilSurvey – Accessible Soils Information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS)

By, Yiyi Wong, J.D. Candidate 2014, Pace Law School

Environmental practitioners involved in land use, remediation, restoration, and real estate transactions who have trouble locating accurate soils data now have a free tool provided by USDA-NRCS to increase their knowledge of a geographic area or aid in case research.

USDA-NRCS was originally established by Congress in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS).  However, as the SCS became more involved environmental and natural resource conservation, this branch was renamed NRCS.  The purpose of NRCS is to lead conservation for all natural resources, ensure conservation and restoration of private lands, and to work with landowners through conservation planning and assistance designed to benefit the soil, water, air, plants, and animals that result in stewardship of productive and healthy ecosystems.

WebSoilSurvey (WSS) was developed to provide resources to anyone interested in soils information provided by NRCS' Soil Survey Division.  It is operated by NRCS and provides access to the largest natural resource information system worldwide.  This web based application draws from soils data collected and compiled by the Soil Survey Staff for 95% of the U.S.  In the near future, WSS plans to have 100% coverage of the U.S.  This site is updated and maintained online as the single authoritative source of soil survey information.

WSS is an easy to use interactive website which allows a user to access available NRCS soils data for any environmental legal application.  To generate a map for negotiations or court, one only needs to know the geographic area of interest.  WSS may be searched by keywords, geographic coordinates, and agency collaborators and/or federal landowners e.g. the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.  Once the image is created, users are allowed to print or purchase the displayed soils information.  

If a user does not understand any related terms, a fully documented description of soil characteristics and other databases used in the production of the interactive map are available in the left hand column.  Of interest to the user will be the Official Soil Series Description, the Soil Geochemistry Spatial Databases, the Soil Quality and Health website, and the Soil Geography databases.

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