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TSSH Part 637

Providing Education and Training

Background (637.00)

Some of the important functions and duties of the resource soil scientist involve providing education and training in the use of soil survey and promoting the use, understanding, and application of soils information to meet public policy and program needs in conservation planning, environmental assessment, engineering, and other natural resource management activities, both internally and externally. The resource soil scientist may be asked to provide training to NRCS employees and cooperators on soils issues related to USDA programs and to the soil survey. Common requests for training and education include NRCS training courses; in-state training for other NRCS staff; outreach programs through State and local agencies; community groups and organizations; and youth programs, such as Envirothon, soil judging, and school programs. Training and education requests from other Federal, State, or local forms of government require a memorandum of understanding or a cooperative agreement unless the event is to provide training and education regarding the published soil survey or other NCSS products.

Among the key elements in promoting the use of the soil survey are identifying the most appropriate data to use for the purpose or application and training users in the proper use of the desired delivery system.

Soil Data Mart (637.01)

Soil Data Mart (SDM) is the fundamental delivery system for the most current spatial and tabular soil survey data. The SDM provides reporting and downloading capabilities for individual soil survey areas.

The spatial and tabular soil survey data can be downloaded from the SDM for use in local GIS applications. The tabular data are downloaded as flat text files and are then loaded into a Microsoft Access database for effective use. Load the tabular soil survey data into the empty Microsoft Access database soil template that is included with the soil survey data. With the spatial data in Shapefile format and the tabular data loaded into a current Microsoft Access soil database template, the data can be used in ESRI ArcMap.

Because this data format is designed for trained GIS users, initial training should be for the purpose of creating awareness of the existence of the SDM Web site. Typical users are consultants and city, county, State, and Federal GIS specialists. Because these users are typically not soil scientists and may not be familiar with all the varied types of property data and interpretations, training should then focus on the types of data and information in the soil survey that are applicable to their purposes. Often, because of a lack of understanding of the data and properties, users who are not soil scientists may choose the wrong property or a less desirable property or interpretation to address their topic. Time should be spent learning their application(s) and discussing the best elements of the survey for their use.

Soil Data Viewer (637.02)

Soil Data Viewer (SDV) is a tool that can be installed and added to ESRI ArcMap so that the soil survey information can be used in a geospatial context. Soil Data Viewer is used to create interpretive soil maps that can be used in resource and environmental assessments, conservation planning, land use interpretations, and other natural resource management activities.

This tool can be presented to GIS users as an option for producing tailored, formatted products.

Web Soil Survey (637.03)

Web Soil Survey (WSS) is a public Web site that provides access to soil survey information for a user-defined area of interest. The WSS is connected to the SDM, and the soil survey information delivered via the WSS is the same data that is in the SDM.

Web Soil Survey provides the ability to print a soil map, interpretive maps, and reports for a specific area of interest (AOI). Users can also assemble and download customized soil survey reports for their area of interest. Currently (as of 9/1/2009), the size of an AOI is limited to a maximum of 10,000 acres. Also, the WSS delivers only a very brief soil profile description (as part of the map unit description); detailed soil profile descriptions are not available. Advantages of WSS include the fact that it can be used by individuals who are not familiar with GIS and that it produces a professional customized report.

In addition to helping the user navigate the WSS, it is also important to provide education regarding soil properties and interpretations. In many cases, this kind of assistance can be conducted over the telephone. An understanding of the specific applications in question is important in advising users as to the appropriate data and interpretations to be considered.

Customer Service Toolkit (637.04)

Within the Customer Service Toolkit (CST), SDM data are presented through SDV. It is recommended that Toolkit be used for the training of NRCS field office conservation planners in the use of soils data so that differences in the “look and feel” of the screens are minimized, thus keeping the focus on the technical aspects of the soils data rather than diverting attention to the format of presentation.

One suggestion is to use an actual plan for training one-on-one scenarios. The session should begin by finding out the details of the customer’s interests and needs. This step should be followed by the field resource inventory. This process presents a good opportunity to provide instruction on assessing soil quality. NRCS conservation planning uses relatively little of the available soils data. By inputting soils data into the plan, additional soils data will be readily available for future use, even though some of the specific data may not be needed for the conservation practices or systems planned at that time. A resource soil scientist may see that field roads, access roads, outbuildings with piping, septic systems, and other structures are planned by the cooperator. The resource soil scientist knows that the interpretations for all these uses can easily be downloaded and presented to the land owner for present or later use, thus providing a “value added” component to the plan.

A resource soil scientist must not only assess soil quality and dynamic soil properties but also teach the concepts, importance, and components of these issues to conservation planners. The best way to achieve this function is in the field with the planner during a resource inventory. As a teaching aid and standard resource inventory tool, a localized soil quality checklist can be developed. The resource soil scientist should solicit input from the planners. The checklist should be evaluated in terms of how well it can be understood by individuals who are not soil scientists and whether they can correctly observe and evaluate each soil property listed. Proper use of diagrams and images can facilitate an understanding of certain details, such as the appearance of different soil structural aggregates and what a tillage pan looks like. The local public affairs specialist can help in producing a professional-looking checklist.

The revised NEDC Technical Soil Services course is now taught online using Adobe Connect software. The format of this course enables students to participate from their desks; they can hear various instructors, view presentations, and communicate via voice and chat room. Testing also is conducted in real time. The course is conducted by a cadre of resource soil scientists with the assistance of the NSSC Soils Training Coordinator. The membership of this cadre changes periodically. Resource soil scientists interested in participating in the cadre should contact the NSSC Training Coordinator.

Army Corps of Engineers (COE) Regulatory IV course and NRCS hydric soils training (637.05)

NRCS and the COE provide joint training for their field personnel involved in wetland determinations and delineations. A portion of the training involves identification and delineation of hydric soils. Resource soil scientists may be called upon to teach the hydric soils portion of local training courses by local agreements between NRCS and the COE.

Useful information for development of training and educational material (637.06)

General information on careers in soil science is available.

The education section of the NRCS Soils Web site includes ideas and tools for training and education in soil science.

Information on training currently available to NRCS soil scientists, training aids, and instructor guidance is available.

Training recommended for resource soil scientists (637.07)

Resource soil scientists have predominantly come from the ranks of the soil survey program. Many have been in their careers for several years. The knowledge gained in college courses, such as soil fertility and soil microbiology, has probably been of little use for the professional pedologist. Some technology, such as GIS, either was not yet in existence or has changed significantly in recent years. In addition, a soil mapper is not typically knowledgeable about the array of conservation practices in the eFOTG. Recently, the concept of soil quality has come into prominence. Some of the indicators of soil quality are newer or are still being developed. Dynamic soil properties and ecological sites are becoming increasingly important concepts in NRCS work and in work conducted by the BLM and the Forest Service.

Resource soil scientists should refresh themselves in these topics. For individuals who are not already proficient, taking the ESRI ArcGIS course online followed by the week-long course is recommended. The newly revised Soil Quality course offered through NEDC also is highly recommended.