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Northeast Regional Cooperative Soil Survey Conference


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Kim McCracken, State Soil Scientist for New Hampshire & Maine, and John Galbraith, Virginia Tech, investigate one of the soil pits at Hubbard Brook. Fascinating soil pit on the Hubbard Brook tour featuring an E horizon and cemented Bhs/Bs (ortstein).  
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A quick lunch stop turned into a few hours as soil scientists were treated to thousands of feet of exposed soil at a former road washed out by Hurricane Irene in 2012! A group photo at a roadside stop allowing participants to see the larger landscape and watersheds. Andy Colter, US-Forest Service describing the vegetation inventory associated with the WMNF joint US-Forest Service soil and ecological site inventory project.


The Northeast Regional Cooperative Soil Survey Conference was held at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH during the week of June 23, 2014.  The conference was hosted by the Society of Soil Scientists of Northern New England (SSSNNE), USDA-Forest Service (USFS) and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  The location was the perfect backdrop to highlight the conference theme - Forest Soils and Ecology.  The group of over 70 participants was treated to two days of field tours in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), excellent technical presentations, and engaging large group and breakout discussions.  This conference stressed the importance of strong partnerships and collaboration – the heart of the Cooperative Soil Survey mission.

Tom Wagner, WMNF Forest Supervisor – USFS, and Rick Ellsmore, NH State Conservationist – NH NRCS, offered opening remarks to kick off a great week emphasizing the partnership between NRCS and the Forest Service.  The conference started with National Cooperative Soil Survey Reports from Tom Reinsch providing an update on the NRCS Soil Science Division and the Status of the Reorganization.  Dave Hoover reported on Soil Survey Investigations, Soil Data Join Recorrelation (SDJR) Initiative and the National Soil Survey Center Activities.  Andy Colter shared the US Forest Service Update on the White Mountain National Forest and priorities for the Northeast Region. The Consulting Soil Scientist report was delivered by Ray Lobdell, President of the Society of Soil Scientists of Northern New England.  Mark Stolt, University of Rhode Island, provided an informative overview of the broad range of projects lead by University Cooperators in the region.  We also had several interesting presentations from University Cooperators related to Ecological Site Descriptions, which sparked some healthy discussion among participants throughout the week.   The afternoon was packed with productive Committee Breakout sessions.  Day one ended with a poster session and group social with refreshments provided by SSSNNE.

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On Tuesday, the group traveled to one of the premier Long-Term Ecological Research Sites in the US, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF), for presentations to prepare us for site visits highlighting linkages between podzolization and hydrology.  The day was moderated by Dr.  Scott Bailey, USFS.  At Hubbard Brook we explored variation in podzolization glacial parent materials, which are being investigated as part of a project combining the study of hydrology and soil development –hydropedology. 

The Hubbard Brook Hydropedology Initiative investigates the influences of hydrology on pedogenesis and soil chemistry, and in turn, the controls on stream water quality in headwater catchments.   Many of the podzolized soils we saw at Hubbard Brook do not meet the taxonomic criteria for Spodosols based on morphology or chemistry.  However, micromorphology and extraction chemistry suggest that podsolization is a major process responsible for their formation.  Investigators at Hubbard Brook, led by Dr. Scott Bailey, interpret what we saw in the field as lateral podzolization, a concept where downslope illuviation zone results from translocation of spodic materials from higher on the hillslope.  We saw some very interesting pits with a variety of features common in Spodosols, including pockety E horizons, ortstein (partially cemented spodic horizon), and well developed Bhs horizons.  For more information on the work: Bailey, S.W., et al., 2014.  Influence of landscape position and transient water table on soil development and carbon distribution in a steep, headwater catchment, Geoderma 226-227:279-289.

The second field day highlighted the coordinated approach to NRCS and USFS natural resource and soil inventories on the White Mountain National Forest.  Before heading to the field we had project overviews from Craig Busskohl and Jessica Philippe from NRCS and Greg Nowacki and Andy Colter from the Forest Service.  The presentations and field tours included Ecological Site Descriptions, the USFS and NRCS partnership for ESD mapping in the WMNF, and Raster soil mapping using LIDAR. The group traveled to the Wild Ammoonosuc watershed to observe soil site and vegetation date collection methods for the joint NRCS-Forest Service Project.  We examined three pits in the field and were able to see the comparison to the model predictions of the raster soil model produced using the Arc Soil Inference Engine… with amazing outcomes!  So the collaboration has resulted in a mutually agreed upon methodology for conducting soil and vegetation inventories on the WMNF, which have been in use on the project since 2013.  This approach is serving as the basis for developing both USFS Landtype Phase concepts and NRCS Ecological Site Descriptions in additional to the primary goal of completing an Initial Soil Survey of the WMNF.  Due to inclement weather and some transportation issues we had a chance to stop and explore an area (formerly a road) devastated by Hurricane Irene in 2012.  The tour was ended a little bit early due to severe thunderstorms. 

Wednesday evening featured a banquet with two keynote speakers: Dr. Phil Schoeneberger, NRCS and Dr. Lisa Doner, Plymouth State University (PSU).  Dr. Doner, a climatologist at PSU presented her climatological and soil research in Iceland.  Her presentation focused on the interactions between the climate fluctuations associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation, current human land-use activities and the physical (erosional) features and chemical properties of soils and sediment deposits on the Island. 

The conference closed on Thursday after breakout sessions, committee and MLRA reports.  Two sessions on the last morning highlighted the interest and passion for the Cooperative Soil Survey in the Northeast and throughout the country.  Conference attendees expressed concern for the future of the Cooperative Soil Survey given shrinking budgets and increasing workload demands for everyone.  The group discussed strategies to prepare for the future with a special focus on 2015 as the International Year of Soil.  Recommendations and concerns from the group discussion were passed along to the National Cooperative Soil Survey Leadership.

New York is slated to host the next Northeast regional meeting in 2016.