For over 25 years, soil survey crews have trekked the vast and rugged Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests from spring through fall, taking inventory of the soils and land it comprises, according to a National Resources Conservation Service press release.

The physically challenging work of digging over a thousand soil pits, making copious field observations and back country camping has paid off in the form of the most detailed information to date on the soil and landscapes of these remote wilderness areas.

“The Forest Service is tasked with maintaining the productivity of the land we manage,” said Cara Farr, Regional Soil Scientist for U.S. Forest Service Region 6. “In order to do that, we need to know the land’s production potential and limitations.”

The project was a collaboration between the NRCS and Forest Service. Soil surveys for the Umatilla National Forest and the north portion of the Malheur National Forest have been released to the public on Web Soil Survey. Additionally, soil data in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has received a major update. In total, the project comprises 2,042 square miles of new data and 2,721 square miles of updated data.

NRCS has been mapping the nation’s soil for over 100 years, but large unmapped areas remain, mostly on federal lands in the Western U.S. When soils data is available for these remote areas, it’s often too broad for strategic conservation. With the completion of this project, soil information on the forests is now detailed enough to develop precise land management strategies for specific areas.

“We want to match the management to the land’s potential — old growth forest where the land can support it, timber production in the right areas. With this high level of detail, we can more accurately manage for wildlife habitat or water quality in areas we’re most likely to be successful,” said Farr.

Soil surveys have historically been used to identify quality farm ground and develop conservation plans for farmers and ranchers. In recent years the number of soil survey customers has grown. Government agencies, universities, non-profits and the public all access soil surveys to make informed land use decisions.

View and download the complete soil surveys of these three forests and the rest of the United States on Web Soil Survey, websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov.

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