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Web Soil Survey

Web Soil Survey - 2005 Announcement

It’s not the same soil survey your parents had. . .

Finally! Soil survey maps and data are just a mouse click away.  While for some people, the need to download soil information may seem remote, others will be surprised to learn that soil survey maps and data have become an operational mainstay for rural and urban citizens alike.  So the news that soil survey information and maps now can be downloaded and printed in the privacy of the home or office is huge. This is another step away from the paper world and into the e-world.

Soil survey is an inventory of the nation’s soil resources. Soil surveys help identify the best way to protect soil and water quality through the use of conservation practices. Soil surveys also can identify which sites are suitable for a wide variety of land uses. After years of preparation of digital soil maps and a National Soil Information System, the Web Soil Survey site (http://soils.usda.gov/survey) goes live August 15, 2005.  

The new Website is operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and will provide access to the largest natural resource information system in the world.  NRCS is responsible for producing the country’s soil surveys.  The agency also leads the National Cooperative Soil Survey, a partnership of state and federal agencies and groups that work together to cooperatively collect, classify, interpret, and disseminate soil information. 

 “Making this information available on the web is a major achievement and will contribute to efficiency and customer service.  This new delivery system adds convenience for anyone who has an interest in obtaining soil information and maps,” said William Puckett, NRCS deputy chief for Soil Survey and Resource Assessment.  “In addition, this allows us to keep the information current and always available, which is light years from the way we did it before.”

In the past, updating soil survey information took many years, often hampered by the cost associated with physically gathering new data, then printing and distributing the maps. For years, the familiar soil survey books were free to the public but a limited number of copies were printed so few people had quick access to the information.  Now, that is going to change. The launch of Web Soil Survey will bring information on soil properties and soil usage to everyone with access to the Internet.

“Starting in June, soil maps for nearly two-thirds of the nation will be available for viewing and downloading,” Puckett added.  “Soil maps for many of the remaining areas are in the process of being digitized. Taken together, soil survey information is available on more than 90 percent of the country’s private lands.”

The new system allows users to select their geographic area of interest similar to other web based “locater” sites but with specialized features for soils information. Features include enabling the viewer to display soil interpretations and suitabilities and accessing various soil property tables. All of this information can be downloaded to your local computer, or sent directly to your printer.

The once familiar soil survey publications, free and available in most NRCS field offices, will slowly be phased out and the federal government initiative of electronic government information (egov) will replace the publications through the use of the Internet.  People without Internet access will be able to acquire soil survey information from any NRCS field office or by going to the local library.

The history of soil survey starts in 1899. Early soil reports provided scientifically based information that provided a basis for agricultural development. During the first 30 years, mapping was completed on plain tables and without formal classification schemes. It was not until the second 30 years with the advent of aerial photography and the development of the first classification scheme that the soil survey process became credible. However, it was the next 30 years that gave us the “modern” era of soil survey, aided by advances in technology and the development of Soil Taxonomy, which is the internationally recognized standard for communicating soil information around the world.

Today, soil surveys have become critical information for land use decisions, on the farm or ranch, in the suburb or city. Whether a contractor is looking to develop a chosen site or purchase land, or a farmer is considering alternative crops, soil information is a critical element in the equation that produces profit.  Soil surveys provide essential information to rural and urban America and the need for productivity or development without harming natural resources.

NRCS is a science based agency committed to the preservation of the nation’s natural resources through the use of conservation. Providing easy access to soils information helps individuals and communities make better informed decisions regarding natural resources and land use.