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Past and Present

past and present

What is the Soil Survey Program?

The National Cooperative Soil Survey Program is an endeavor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other Federal agencies; State and local governments; and other cooperators. It provides a systematic study of the soils in a given area, including the classification, mapping, and interpretation of the soils. Soil types are classified from physical properties, drawing heavily on the principles of pedology, geology, and geomorphology.

History of Soil Survey in Wisconsin

The first soil map of Wisconsin was published in 1882. Much of the early survey work was done by the Wisconsin Geologic and Natural History Survey, the University of Wisconsin Soils Department, and the U.S. Bureau of Soils. The Federal soil survey work in Wisconsin began in 1899, and thereafter the soil survey became a cooperative effort between the Federal government and State agencies. The National Cooperative Soil Survey Initiative for the U.S. was launched in 1899 under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Division of Agricultural Soils, which became the USDA Bureau of Soils in 1901

Soil survey work in Wisconsin began in earnest during the early 1900s, shortly after the inception of the National Cooperative Soil Survey. One of the earliest published soil surveys in Wisconsin was the Soil Survey of Racine County, Wisconsin. Field mapping for this survey was completed during the summer of 1906. The soil survey report, including the soil map, was published in 1907.

In 1933, the U.S. Department of Interior created the Soil Erosion Service to address the severe national soil erosion problems. Hugh Hammond Bennett was the Chief of the service. In 1935, the Soil Erosion Service was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and became the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). In 1995, the Soil Conservation Service became the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, soil survey work in Wisconsin leapfrogged around the State on a county-by-county basis as cost-sharing monies became available from counties and other sources. In 2000, the State of Wisconsin weighed   in to support soil surveys in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Administration signed an agreement with NRCS to complete the initial soil survey of the State. NRCS used the influx of funds from the State to hire more staff. The additional staff accelerated progress, and the last of the field mapping was completed in the fall of 2005. A “Last Acre Ceremony” was held October 7, 2005, at the Lac Courte Oreilles Conference Center in Hayward. On May 16, 2006, Wisconsin became the 10th State to have soil survey information for the entire State on the Web Soil Survey.

Ongoing Soil Survey Mapping

The completion of initial field mapping in 2005 marked the end of two eras for the NRCS Soil Survey Program (pretaxonomy and “modern mapping” post 1965) in Wisconsin and the start of another. The central focus of the program in Wisconsin shifted to updating and applying existing soil surveys. The older soil surveys are now being brought up to modern standards for mapping and soil science as more detailed soil maps and data are being developed using the latest GIS technologies. The surveys for Dunn, La Crosse, Pepin, Pierce, and Richland Counties have already been updated. Initials surveys were done on a county-by county basis. Survey updates are being done by physiographic region. The physiographic regions are known as Major Land Resource Areas (MLRAs). In addition to updating the inventory of the soils, NRCS also provides training and support for the interpretation and use of soil survey information.

Soil Survey Annual Data Refresh

NRCS in Wisconsin works with Regional Soils Offices and traditional partners to prioritize ongoing soil science priorities. Every year on September 30th, the new soil survey information from ongoing work is released to the public.

History of Wisconsin Soil Survey  (PDF; 13 MB)

Current Soil Science Update Projects

Soil Surveys are updated by MLRA Soil Survey soil scientists on a project basis. When projects are completed, the data goes through quality reviews and is then published to Web Soil Survey.


Soil Survey Objectives

With collaboration from our partners, we developed four strategic objectives. Read our division priorities report below.

Soil Science Division Priorities (Fiscal Year 2017)