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Urban Conservation Programs

The urban conservation program is marked by its core of changing customers and the mix of agencies and skill-levels involved in planning and implementing urban projects. It is not unusual to find both public NCSS cooperators, and private soil consultants working at the request of a community non-profit group such as a conservation district. The concepts of social good and stewardship of the land blend with nutritional concerns and recreational needs to intensify the variety of landuses co-existing on an urban parcel. The risk levels for unsuitable choices for land use mean higher economic cost in urban areas, necessitating a more specific and risk-sensitive method of comparing soils within a given site.

The soil survey manuscripts produced for traditional scales of soil survey are undergoing changes in the direction of the needs for urban surveys, such as updating the sample descriptions for interpreting soil suitability for different uses (prewritten manuscript material), adapting the three-rating system (slight, moderate, severe) to use fuzzy logic in a continuous rating of likelihood of suitability from 0.0-1.0, and addressing the need for new interpretations to fit modern types of recreation. Traditional concerns such as the degree of soil limitation, passive recreation, heavy foot traffic, vehicles, flooding, and avoidance of boulders and dust remain and are joined by concerns with more difficult research areas such as heavy metal toxicity and contamination plumes.

Limitations to successful local programs in urban soils include funding, experienced people, scientific knowledge, and customer input. Six projects were started in 1996-97 to demonstrate the potential of urban soils programs when funding was removed as a barrier. Funds were obtained through the USDA-NRCS-Community and Rural Development Division (CARDD) and cooperative agreements were written for the development of prototype urban soils products. The projects and locations varied but shared common formats of futuristic planning, contracts with external customers to help them lead by example, and as prototypes for USDA-NRCS agency direction.

Project Topics

  • Mississippi Soil depth to clay for urban hydrologic planning
  • Colorado Survey feasibility for metropolitan Denver
  • New York Heavy Metal Toxicity in soils
  • Arizona Marketing/Products for non-scientists
  • Massachusetts New Age Packaging of Soil Information
  • New Mexico Soils Technology Transfer Products