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NSSH Part 601

National Cooperative Soil Survey Organization

601.00  Definition

The National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS) is a nationwide partnership of Federal, regional, State, and local agencies and private entities and institutions. This partnership works to cooperatively investigate, inventory, document, classify, interpret, disseminate, and publish information about soils of the United States and its trust territories and commonwealths. The activities of NCSS are carried out on national, regional (such as the Major Land Resource Area or MLRA), and State levels.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is responsible for the leadership of soil survey activities of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the leadership and coordination of NCSS activities, and for the extension of soil survey technology to global applications. Additional information about the soil survey program is in the NRCS General Manual under Title 430, Part 402.

Primary Federal agency NCSS participants include the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Defense (DoD), Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Appendix 601-1 has a short description of the roles of these partners. In addition to these Federal agency partners, there are numerous State and local partners participating in NCSS. Information about the organization and responsibilities of partner agencies is contained in their policy documents.

601.01  NRCS Organization and Responsibilities

This section provides information about the responsibilities of various offices within NRCS as they pertain to the National Cooperative Soil Survey Program.

  1. NCSS Responsibilities of the Soil Survey Office (SSO)
    1. Conducting an inventory and assessment of existing soil survey and ecological site information to identify deficiencies and make recommendations for improvement;
    2. Developing a long-range plan for updating soil survey and ecological information in the MLRA soil survey area;
    3. Managing the soil survey and ecological site activities of private and Native American lands within the assigned area;
    4. Preparing annual work plans, including schedules for completion of priorities identified in the project plan and an annual plan of operations for the area;
    5. Providing on-the-job technical direction and training for staff members;
    6. Controlling the quality of all phases of the soil survey and ecological site activities as specified in the project plan and annual plan of operations;
    7. Periodically reviewing all soil survey and ecological site products developed by the office staff to ensure those products meet NCSS standards;
    8. Ensuring that all soil survey and ecological site products submitted for quality assurance review and certification have passed prior quality control inspections;
    9. Making initial correlation decisions for the survey area using NCSS standards and supplemental guidance provided by the MLRA soil survey regional office (SSRO);
    10. Conducting progressive correlation during the course of all survey activities;
    11. Ensuring that all changes to map unit names and legends, and the reasons for the changes, are recorded in the National Soil Information System (NASIS);
    12. Ensuring seamless soil survey products across political and physiographic boundaries in the survey area as defined in Sections 609.03 and 610.03 of this handbook;
    13. Providing leadership for the technical team by identifying survey update needs and carrying out the completion of priority projects;
    14. Assessing training needs of the SSO staff and requesting training from the SSRO, state offices, and national technical support centers;
    15. Preparing agendas, drafting soil abd ecological site descriptions, and assembling the laboratory data, maps, and other information needed for quality assurance reviews conducted by the SSRO;
    16. Ensuring that findings and recommendations identified in the SSRO quality assurance reviews are addressed and implemented in a timely manner;
    17. Developing soil survey products that meet NCSS standards as outlined in Part 644 of this handbook;
    18. Developing digital spatial information that meet NCSS standards as outlined in Part 647 of this handbook;
    19. Preparing drafts of official soil series descriptions (OSDs) and ecological site descriptions (ESDs);
    20. Developing project plans as directed and planning and organizing work activities to accomplish the projects in the assigned time frame;
    21. Compiling data and preparing technical reports;
    22. Developing and maintaining the soil database in NASIS;
    23. Developing and implementing an active information program; and
    24. Maintaining a safe working environment.
  2. NCSS Responsibilities of the Resource Soil Scientist
    1. Assisting the state soil scientist with the development, coordination, and maintenance of field office technical guides and soil interpretations;
    2. Conducting onsite soils investigations according to agency authorities;
    3. Evaluating and assisting field offices in maintaining the official soil survey information and soil information systems;
    4. Coordinating with the soil survey office and state office to make any needed changes in the official soil survey data;
    5. Providing assistance in the use of soils information for the implementation of NRCS programs;
    6. Providing interdisciplinary advice and expertise to solve resource problems;
    7. Assisting with special soil studies including collecting additional site and soil information on the performance and behavior of correlated soil map units;
    8. Training NRCS staffs and the public to understand and utilize soil survey data and information;
    9. Assisting the state soil scientist with the development and dissemination of soil information and in promoting soil survey; and
    10. Assisting the state soil scientist in evaluating the adequacy of existing soil survey maps, data, and interpretations through participation on the SSO technical team.
  3. NCSS Responsibilities of the State Soil Scientist
    1. Providing technical soil services to other staffs and leadership to resource soil scientists;
    2. Developing cooperative relationships to enhance the funding, progress, use, and understanding of soil surveys;
    3. Serving as the primary liaison to NCSS cooperators;
    4. Hosting an annual meeting of State NCSS cooperators to plan and coordinate soil survey and ecological site activities and technical soil services;
    5. Periodically hosting the regional or national NCSS conference;
    6. Documenting the needs for updating soil survey maps, data, and interpretations;
    7. Serving as a member of the management team(s) for the SSROs serving the State (refer to Section 608.01[f]);
    8. Assisting soil survey users in understanding and applying soil survey information;
    9. Coordinating the development of localized soil interpretations;
    10. Marketing soil survey information;
    11. Providing soils training to specialists in other disciplines;
    12. Ensuring the technical content, coordination, and quality of soil information in the field office technical guides;
    13. Providing advice and expertise on soil-related issues to all NRCS conservation programs;
    14. Posting updated soil survey data to the Soil Data Warehouse and Data Mart;
    15. Assisting in national soil program initiatives;
    16. Supplementing and distributing a State subset of the National Soil Information System (NASIS) data;
    17. Preparing digital files for general soil maps, index maps, soil legends, special features legends, geology maps, and block diagrams for use in publications;
    18. Providing leadership in identifying the need for new soil survey information and interpretations within the State; and
    19. Providing leadership for the development of new soil survey applications, technology, and information delivery within the State.
  4. NCSS Responsibilities of the Soil Survey Regional Office (SSRO)
    1. Providing leadership in the production and quality assurance of soil survey and ecological site information;
    2. Developing standard operating procedures for the MLRA soil survey region that outline the responsibilities and specifications for conducting soil surveys and ecological site activities;
    3. Providing leadership in the production and quality assurance of soil survey and ecological site information;
    4. Providing leadership in classifying, interpreting, correlating, and joining spatial and attribute data within and between MLRA soil survey areas;
    5. Planning and managing the soil survey regional office activities in cooperation with state soil scientists, cooperators, and other stakeholders;
    6. Coordinating with National Soil Survey Center soil scientists and other disciplines, as appropriate, to maintain and improve soil surveys;
    7. Securing technical advice, expertise, and review from other disciplines for soil interpretations and technical reports;
    8. Providing technical support and guidance to soil survey offices;
    9. Conducting quality assurance reviews to:
      1. ensure that products developed by the SSO have passed quality control inspections and meet NCSS standards,
      2. ensure that progressive correlation is being implemented and followed by the SSO staff,
      3. provide guidance to the SSO staff, and
      4. identify training needs, as well as management and performance issues, and communicate those needs and concerns to the appropriate supervisor;
    10. Providing supplemental training in all aspects of soil survey operations as may be needed (beyond that provided by the Soil Science Division) to soil survey office staffs through technical notes, on-site visits, workshops, and similar activities;
    11. Providing quality assurance of all attribute data residing in NASIS;
    12. Developing soil correlation documents for initial soil surveys;
    13. Coordinating soil series and soil property and interpretation databases across MLRA soil survey areas;
    14. Providing quality assurance of all OSDs and ESDs drafted or revised in the region;
    15. Maintaining the national OSD and soil classification (SC) databases for soil series mapped in the region;
    16. Ensuring the development of seamless soil survey products across political and physiographic boundaries as defined in Section 609.03 of this handbook;
    17. Providing MLRA-specific correlation guidelines for technical issues, such as soil temperature and moisture regimes and their associated ecological zones and vegetation, and any other MLRA-specific information;
    18. Providing leadership for the coordinated collection of soil survey-related soil characterization data and investigations in the region;
    19. Providing leadership in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting soil performance and characterization data;
    20. Providing technical quality assurance to soil survey technical reports and maps submitted for publication;
    21. Editing, formatting, proofreading, and reviewing text and tables for soil survey technical reports;
    22. Providing quality assurance for all spatial data developed in the region;
    23. Coordinating and providing quality assurance for the map finishing process;
    24. Providing quality assurance for the Soil Survey Geographic (SSURGO) database and the Digital General Soil Map of the U.S. (STATSGO) database;
    25. Coordinating proposed revisions to major land resource area boundaries with states and the NSSC;
    26. Assisting in the coordination of regional or national NCSS conferences; and
    27. Coordinating activities of the management team(s) and ensuring development of standard operating procedures that identify business steps, structure, and team member responsibilities.
  5. NCSS Responsibilities of the National Technology Support Center Core Team Soil Scientist
    1. Providing assistance to States and MLRA soil survey regional offices in developing and implementing strategies to coordinate and deliver soil survey data and interpretations to meet specific program needs, such as ranking systems and eligibility criteria for CRP and EQIP;
    2. Providing technical assistance and guidance in developing interpretive criteria to meet State’s specialized interpretive needs;
    3. Reviewing Section II of States field office technical guides to ensure completeness;
    4. Developing, maintaining, and enhancing soil-related aspects of conservation practice standards and quality criteria used in field office technical guides;
    5. Collaborating with other discipline specialists to develop and maintain drainage guides, irrigation guides, and other technical references included in the Engineering Field Manual and other discipline-specific technical guides;
    6. Reviewing and recommending program policy;
    7. Providing specific guidance to States and collaborating with others regarding detailed training in the application of soil survey data and interpretations for programs such as the Farmland Protection Policy Act, the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and Farm Bill programs;
    8. Collaborating with others to provide training and guidance at all levels in the use, understanding, and appropriate application of soil survey information in program policy and environmental models;
    9. Developing interpretive criteria, identifying data requirements, and coordinating delivery of data and interpretations to meet specific national program needs;
    10. Providing technical expertise and serving as a Soil Science Division representative (within the national technical technology support center region) to the Agricultural Research Service, university research stations, and others in the application of soils and soil survey information for the development of environmental models such as RUSLE2, WEPS, WinPST, WEPP, and EPIC;
    11. Promoting the use and integration of soil survey information in public and program policies;
    12. Working with the Soil Quality Special Technology Development Team, NTSC and NRCS staffs, and others to anticipate and identify needs for soil survey data and interpretations to meet new and emerging programs and strategize technology transfer and training; and
    13. Representing the Soil Science Division within the national technology support center region and providing technical expertise to task forces, committees, and work groups dealing with natural resource issues such as air, water, and soil quality and related legal, social, and policy concerns.
  6. NCSS Responsibilities of the National Geospatial Center of Excellence (NGCE)
    1. Acquiring imagery for soil mapping and technical reports;
    2. Preparing maps and indices of aerial photography;
    3. Preparing orthophotos for halftone reproduction and lithographic printing;
    4. Providing a repository for geospatial data layers and distributing them as needed;
    5. Assisting MLRA soil survey regional offices in providing quality assurance of digital soils spatial data and metadata development to meet SSURGO specifications;
    6. Providing guidance in the management of geospatial data;
    7. Providing support for the integration of new geospatial technologies;
    8. Providing the process, procedures, and training needed to generate digital map finishing products;
    9. Providing photographic and reproduction materials for reports and soil survey management;
    10. Preparing map materials for reproduction;
    11. Assembling proof layouts for printing technical reports;
    12. Preparing the final locator maps, block diagrams, general soil maps, and index to map sheets that are used in soil survey technical reports;
    13. Distributing certified SSURGO data and STATSGO data;
    14. Acquiring, integrating, and delivering digital elevation data for soil survey application;
    15. Assisting with the application of remote sensing to soil survey;
    16. Providing global positioning system acquisition, evaluation, and training;
    17. Providing geospatial Web services (WMS), image map services (IMS), feature map services (FMS), and the Geospatial Data Gateway for soil survey data distribution and application; and
    18. Providing training in and assistance with geographic information systems (GIS).
  7. NCSS Responsibilities of the National Soil Survey Center (NSSC)
    1. Providing leadership in the development of policies, guidelines, standards, and procedures for all technical phases of NCSS work;
    2. Maintaining and improving the scientific basis for the NCSS program;
    3. Maintaining national soil survey standards, which are contained in the National Soil Survey Handbook, Soil Survey Manual, Soil Taxonomy, Soil Survey Laboratory Methods Manual, and other topical handbooks for mapping, classification, interpretation, investigation, laboratory analysis, and data management;
    4. Developing and maintaining the National Ecological Site Handbook;
    5. Providing leadership for the effective integration of soil survey technical standards and principles in the development and maintenance of spatial and tabular information systems;
    6. Assisting international, national, SSRO, State, and soil survey office staffs in soil survey and ecological site activities;
    7. Coordinating with the National Employee Development Center to plan and deliver training for the Soil Science Division, including training in soil survey procedures, soil classification, pedology, geomorphic principles and application, interpretations, investigations, soil survey project management, technical soil services, ecological site inventory, and data management;
    8. Supplementing basic soil survey information with laboratory and field data on the properties and behavior of soils; and
    9. Providing liaisons to each of the NCSS regional conferences.
  8. NCSS Responsibilities of the Geospatial Research Unit, National Soil Survey Center
    1. Promoting partnerships with educational institutions, private industry, and government agencies to research and develop technologies that will enhance the production and utilization of soil information;
    2. Addressing future soil information dissemination in partnership with the National Geospatial Center of Excellence by developing technologies to support distribution; and
    3. Implementing functional user-friendly applications by delivering them to the appropriate functional unit for their use.
  9. NCSS Responsibilities of National Headquarters
    1. Formulating national policies regarding the soil survey and ecological site programs;
    2. Formulating policy regarding the integration of technical soil services within NRCS and with other agencies;
    3. Representing NRCS agency interests to NCSS;
    4. Providing leadership for the Federal part of NCSS;
    5. Chairing and coordinating NCSS and its activities;
    6. Developing and maintaining relationships and contacts with NCSS cooperators;
    7. Developing soil science-related policies, procedures, and implementation strategies for maintaining and coordinating field office technical guides with primary emphasis on Section II of the States field office technical guides;
    8. Developing, reviewing, and recommending program policy;
    9. Providing technical expertise to the Agricultural Research Service, university research stations, and others in the use and application of soils and soil survey information for the development of environmental models such as RUSLE2, WEPS, WinPST, WEPP, and EPIC; and
    10. Providing technical expertise to task forces, committees, and work groups dealing with natural resource issues such as air, water, and soil quality and related legal, social, and policy concerns.

Appendix 601-1—Primary Federal Partners

This appendix includes a brief description of the role of the five primary Federal partners in NCSS.  Descriptions were prepared in 2006 by representatives of each agency.  The most current information is contained in each agency’s own policy documents.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)

BIA is the primary contact for soil surveys on the 93.7 million acres of Native American lands.  Soil surveys are primarily at 1:24,000 scale to support decision-making processes for land management.  Soil surveys are needed for farming, community planning, land development, and grazing and forest management.  Soil survey and ecological site data are necessary for land health assessments, grazing permit renewal, energy and mineral permitting and leasing, restoration of natural fire processes, restoration of the health of the land, maintenance of clean water and air, and invasive plant control.  Soil information is fundamental in assessing soil capabilities, limitations, and vulnerability to degradation and loss of capacity so that the health of the land can be sustained.  Because Native American lands are considered private lands, NRCS has the responsibility to complete soil surveys on Native American lands.  Soil surveys are completed in conjunction with BIA soil scientists and other staff.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

BLM manages approximately 261 million acres of public lands, located primarily in 12 western States.  The mission of BLM is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.  BLM-administered lands include a diverse mosaic of grassland, shrub land, forest, desert, and arctic and alpine ecosystems on extensive landscapes that range from nearly level playas to steep, rugged mountains.  These landscapes and ecosystems contain a wide variety of soils with diverse properties that can significantly affect use and management.  BLM manages a wide variety of resources and uses, including energy and minerals, livestock forage, fish and wildlife habitat, timber, wild horse and burro populations, watershed values, wilderness and recreation areas, and cultural and other natural heritage values.  BLM administers public lands within a framework of numerous laws and regulations, including FLPMA, NEPA, and State water quality laws.  Soils are one of the most fundamental natural resources on public lands.  Soils sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the land.   Soil quality and health are the driving forces that determine these factors. 

Soil surveys are primarily at 1:24,000 scale to support decision-making processes for land management.  Soil survey and ecological site data are necessary for rangeland health assessments, grazing permit renewal, energy and mineral permitting and leasing, restoration of natural fire processes, restoration of the health of the land, maintenance of clean water and air, and invasive plant control.  Soil information is fundamental in assessing soil capabilities, limitations, and vulnerability to degradation and loss of capacity so that the health of the land can be sustained.  The information and interpretations provided in soil surveys is helpful in managing all activities on public land that disturb the soil.  Most soil and ecological mapping on public land has been accomplished via reimbursable agreements with NRCS.

Department of Defense (DoD)

DoD manages about 50 million acres and is divided into 5 main agencies.  The Army has about 17 million acres of mission land, the Air Force has about 9 million acres, the Navy has about 2 million acres, the Marines have about 1 million acres, and the Army Corps of Engineers has about 15 million acres.  The remainder is divided up by smaller agencies.

DoD has two missions on its installations.  The first mission is to train soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors in conditions as close as possible to those under which they may have to fight.  The second mission is to manage the conservation of natural resources.  Managing the conservation of natural resources allows for the first mission.

The Sikes Act, as amended, requires each component service (Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines) to have an integrated natural resources management plan (INRMP) for each installation and/or training site that has significant natural resources.  The INRMP describes the installation’s natural resources and its management strategy for sustaining them while supporting the installation’s military mission. 

Each service’s natural resources management implementing guidelines require a soil planning-level survey as part of an installation’s INRMP.   A soil planning-level survey is equivalent to an NCSS soil survey product at an Order 2 level of detail.  Each service either names NRCS as the source from which to obtain soils data or requires that the soil survey be done to NCSS standards and procedures.  Each installation’s mission normally dictates the level of detail needed.  The Army’s standard is a 1:12,000-scale soil survey to support installations where millions of miles are used for land-intensive mission training, including vehicle use (from ATVs to main battle tanks).  On those installations that DoD is closing, clean-up requirements often need Order 2 soil surveys for understanding the effects of chemicals and constituents of concern and managing their transport.  Installations needing a soil survey enter into an agreement with NRCS through the State(s) in which the installation is located.  At the installation’s request, the soil survey may be restricted from public access due to national security concerns.

Forest Service (FS)

The national forests (formerly called forest reserves) originated with the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, which allowed the President to establish forest reserves from timber-covered public domain land.  National forests and grasslands encompass 193 million acres of land.  There are 155 national forests and 20 grasslands.  Congress established the Forest Service to provide quality water and timber for the Nation’s benefit.  The Forest Service manages national forests for multiple uses and benefits and for the sustained yield of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation.  Managing for multiple uses means managing resources under the best combination of uses to benefit the American people while ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment.

The National Forest System uses soil resource inventories and terrestrial ecological unit inventories to develop land and resource management plans as well as project plans.  The Forest Service pursues an ecological approach to land stewardship.  This approach has increased the need for soil resource inventories to collect and classify vegetation data in conjunction with progressive inventories.  Soil surveys in the eastern U.S. have been completed primarily through agreements with NRCS.  In the western States, soil surveys are typically completed by Forest Service staff.

National Park Service (NPS)

NPS is the steward for natural resources on nearly 85 million acres of public land. 

Management policies and guidelines for soil resource management are contained in NPS-77, Natural Resources Management.  The NPS management policies state: “The NPS will actively seek to understand and preserve the soil resources of parks and to prevent, to the extent possible, the unnatural erosion, physical removal, or contamination of the soil, or its contamination of other resources.”  The NPS Soil Inventory and Monitoring Program uses the appropriate detailed geospatial soil databases to define the distribution of soil types; determine their physical, chemical, and biological characteristics; provide interpretations needed to assess soil capabilities, limitations, and vulnerabilities to degradation; promote a soil conservation ethic; and support soil resources management, vital signs monitoring, ecological restoration activities, and agency decisions on the development of facilities.

Soil management objectives are:

  1. Preserve intact, functioning, natural systems by preserving native soils and the processes of soil genesis in a condition undisturbed by humans.
  2. Maintain significant cultural objects and scenes by conserving soils in a manner consistent with the associated historic practices and by minimizing soil erosion to the extent possible.
  3. Protect property and provide safety by ensuring that developments and their management take into account soil limitations, behavior, and hazards.
  4. Minimize soil loss and disturbance caused by special use activities and ensure that soils retain their productivity and potential for reclamation.  NPS typically works with NRCS, via interagency agreements, to support soil survey crews, which map NPS lands as well as refine and/or develop ecological site descriptions to meet agency needs.