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11.1: Information and Activity

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    Item/concern/concept to be photographed

    Caption requirements

    A. Evidence of good or sound land management.

    What is the land use and why is it considered good management?

    B. Evidence of poor land management.

    What is the land use and why is it considered poor management?

    C. Soil structure – from a previously exposed soil profile

    What type of structure is this and where was the photo taken?

    D. Evidence of proper water management

    What is it and why is this smart water usage?

    E. Parent material – a photo from aboveground is fine

    What is this PM and how do you know this?

    F. Rock

    What is this rock, where did you find it, and how do you know that it is correctly identified?

    G. Mineral

    What is this mineral and how do you know that it is correctly identified?

    H. Soil as engineering media

    Where are you and why is this soil considered engineering media?

    I. Soil as agricultural media

    Where are you and what is being grown in this soil?

    J. Evidence of biological activity in the soil

    What organism is responsible for this activity and is the activity beneficial or harmful and why?

    K. Soil organism

    What is the organism and how did you capture it? How does this organism affect the soil?

    L. Soil order – a photo of any soil order taken from

    aboveground – unless there is an open soil pit or exposed soil

    What is the soil order and how can you be sure that it is correctly identified?

    M. Something used in everyday life that is reliant on the soil

    What is it and why is it reliant on the soil?

    You may only photograph 2 items/concerns from each row (i.e. 2 soil orders, 2 parent materials, 2 soil structures…). You will receive an extra point (for a total of 11/10) if you take a photo of the entire group in front of one of the items!

    Land Use Planning

    Basic Concepts of Land Use Planning

    A general map of the local soils plus detailed soil maps is essential for sound land use planning. Soil survey reports usually evaluate soils for their limitations in various land use categories. Some of these common land use categories include dwellings as homes or light industry, septic tank drainage fields, highways, railroads, airport runways, campground and picnic areas, recreational activities (golf courses, parks etc.), cultivated crop production, rangeland productivity, forest products production, and watershed management.

    Some of the most commonly monitored soil properties bearing upon land use decisions include slope, susceptibility to erosion, water drainage, wetness, water overflow, pending or flooding hazard, water permeability, soil depth to hard rock, shrink and swell potential, corrosion potential, and the ability of the soil to bear highways and large buildings.

    Land Use Planning Process

    The land use planning process requires balancing the concerns for the physical nature of the soil (texture, structure, and water holding ability), chemical characteristics (pH, electrical conductivity, exchangeable sodium percentage, and plant nutrient fertility), and biological productivity (microbial activity, C/N ratio, crop yields) with the economic considerations (current market value of the land, tax valuation, and effectiveness of agricultural marketing) considering the legal aspects (zoning and ordinances relative to land use), the political acceptability of any future decisions regarding the use of the land, the acceptability of changes in land use (based upon social and cultural mores, customs, attitudes, and beliefs) and the practicality of developing a manageable and effective plan which can be implemented and administered in a meaningful and efficient manner.

    At the heart of the planning process regarding land use are philosophical and legal conflicts regarding how we view the use and ownership of land. To what extent should the rights of the individual land owner be dominated by public good obtained by using the land in some other manner? Does the private land owner (farmer or rancher) have an unrestricted right to make a profit by selling the land (often for urban development) when society may deem this land should remain in agriculture or be preserved as a green belt area? What local, county, state, or federal laws will prevent changing the current use of a particular parcel of land? Thus, serious attention to the political consequences of any land use decision must be given through local governmental bodies (County Boards of Supervisors) or other regional authorities (Bureau of Land Management).

    Land use planning is a continuous process that is continually being changed and modified as the values of individuals and communities change and as the needs and requirements of people and communities change over time. Land use planning always uses hindsight to project the needs, requirements, and potentials for future generations.

    Agricultural uses

    Intensive crop production requires suitable highly productive soils. Cultivation should be avoided on lands not suitable for intensive agricultural production or on highly erodible land. Future generations expect a continued supply of healthful and affordable food. This will require a sustainable farming enterprise that will insure continued soil productivity for the future.

    Increasingly, people are concerned about both the future productivity of the land and about the nature of the overall quality of the soil health (microorganisms and other organisms living in and on the soil). Best management practices (BMPs) must be followed to assure continued successful agricultural production with minimum consequences (limited nitrate leaching or pesticide contamination of ground waters). The value of prime farm land must be recognized and appreciated.

    In the semi-arid portions of the U.S., erosion due to the wind dominates. In these areas, windbreaks and shelter belts are constructed using trees and shrubs. On the open prairies, wheat is planted in swaths perpendicular to the wind to reduce soil loss by high winds.

    The presence of rare or endangered species on agricultural lands is increasingly pitting farmers and ranchers against those with a concern for the ecosystem and the environment.

    Forest, Range, Water, and Wildlife uses

    Wildlife require necessary food and water sources plus protective cover among trees and shrubs.

    Rangelands have been abused by keeping livestock on a single parcel of land for too long a period. Modern ranchers understand the importance of rotating livestock around on various portions of the land, rather than allowing the animals to remain on the land 365 days a year.

    Range land management requires planning to control undesirable plants on the range along with potential re-seeding plus rotational grazing systems to reduce compaction and soil erosion. Timber management includes siting of road locations to minimize soil erosion. Clear-cutting practices increase soil erosion; thus, proper land management decisions require sensitivity to and awareness of the need to leave the forest debris on the ground after clear-cutting to prevent excessive soil erosion. However, this timber debris is a fire hazard and may cause problems for replanting the land. Livestock grazing will need to be controlled until the trees are beyond the stage where they would be killed by animal grazing. Fertilizer applications on steep forested land may result in fertilizer movement into adjacent streams on steeply sloping landscapes.

    Soil erosion into streams in mountainous areas has damaged many fish spawning areas. Natural habitat restoration is needed to ensure logging or mining activities in mountainous regions do not adversely impact stream water quality. Wildlife habitat management is increasingly seen as an important facet of wise land use planning. This must be based upon an entire ecosystem approach where soil is only one component of the entire management process.

    Most forest and rangelands serve as watersheds that provide substantial amounts of surface water collected into dams and reservoirs for irrigation or for municipal water uses. The soils must be protected to ensure the water is of the highest quality. Also, eroding soil must be prevented from entering these dams and reservoirs. The eroded sediments would otherwise settle behind the dam or reservoir, reducing the total volume of water that could be held by the dam or reservoir.

    Recreational uses

    Steep slopes are inappropriate for campsites. Stone-free sites are most desirable for camping. Steep slopes are essential for ski runs in mountainous areas. Mountainous terrain is desirable for vistas and viewing while hiking. Hiking trails are prone to severe erosion and special attention must be paid to diverting water effectively from the trail.

    Urban Planners

    Urban planners need soil information to assist in planning future urban growth and areas for future expansion. This includes considerations for future open space preservation, water drainage and water recharge locations, and other specific local soil concerns. They must consider the importance of protecting agricultural land as prime farmland for future generations. Often, urban communities are sensitive to the need for aesthetic conditions such as green belts and parks. Stream beds and poorly drained areas can often be developed for green belts and avoid the damage created by constructing buildings or highways on these poorly drained areas.

    Soil engineering properties are particularly of concern relative to construction sites. Storm water runoff, sewage water treatment, and promoting clean air and water are important soil functions to consider when making urban plans. The spatial relationships of the soils and the native vegetation patterns are of primary importance relative to parks, playgrounds, golf courses, poorly drained areas, green belts and other open spaces. An assessment of the local geology and natural resources plus existing highways, railroads, rivers, and other transportation routes must be included in any long-term plan.

    Zoning Regulations

    Almost every proposed land use will have some conflicting use as viewed by various members of the community. Consequently, all land use decisions are hotly debated political issues. These issues usually are described as zoning decisions. Libertarians want the government to have no role in any aspect of their lives. On the other side are various specific interest groups and environmental groups advocating the government must intervene to protect the soil for future generations. Poorly drained areas (flood plains) must be avoided for most human habitation. Steep hillsides which are prone to slope failures must be avoided for housing developments. Poorly drained and wet soils are not suitable for individual home septic tanks. Zoning maps are commonly developed delineating areas with severe or hazardous conditions for potential zoning.

    The needs associated with an increase in population and growth must be balanced with the availability of existing and projected expansion of possible resources available to serve this increase in population. The rights of property owners and farmers to sell their land must be balanced against a higher good to the community to preserve or protect such land for future generations.

    Construction of Buildings, Pipelines, and Highways

    If soils are strongly acidic, the concrete foundations of buildings may corrode. Withdrawing ground water from areas with a high shrink and swell potential may cause cracking of the building foundation. Often, buildings are constructed in river flood plains where the water may only rise 1 in 20 or fewer years. Flooding can cause severe damage to such structures.

    Knowledge of soil engineering properties is essential for any decisions relative to siting various structures on the soil. These properties include the depth of the major soil horizons, the liquid limit, plastic limit, plasticity index, maximum dry bulk density, optimum moisture content, mechanical analysis (texture), AASHTO and Unified classifications of soil characteristics, water percolation rate, soil bearing strength, the shrink-swell ratio, the soil pH, the depth to the water table and depth to bedrock.

    Buried pipelines in soils are subjected to severe corrosion associated with high salt content of soils, strong acidity conditions or to poorly drained soil environments.

    Highways require a stable base on the soil. Frequently, poorly drained areas can result in frost susceptibility of pavement and later pothole development. In some circumstances, the soil may be too soft or to unstable and may have to be removed and replaced with more appropriate fill earth material prior to construction. Some soils will settle unevenly resulting in bumps in the roadbed.

    Problems with Land Use Planning

    Commonly recognized problems include urban sprawl, fragmentation of rural and urban land parcels, over-development, inadequate attention to the need for open space, inflation, and increasing tax valuation of the land. These problems arise mainly because decisions are based solely on political processes or because major constituent groups and stake holders have been ignored in the planning process. Planning takes time. Often, people are in too great a hurry to complete a plan with the consequence of having considered only some (but not all) of the critical factors necessary to make a fully informed decision relative to the use of a particular parcel of land.

    Frequently, the reclassification of using land from agricultural to residential has the consequence of eventually driving farmers off their land. People have a romantic ideal of rural life. However, the new homeowners complain about the smell or noise of livestock production or the potential threat from pesticide drift when the grower applies pesticides to the crops. In addition, the tax valuation of land adjacent to agricultural land is often reclassified thus making the land tax more than the profit per acre that can be obtained by the farmer or rancher continuing to operate as they have in the past.

    Future land use decisions will need to include a greater consideration for the limited natural resources (soil, air, and water) along with a deeper appreciation of the environment and the ecological relationships of all organisms (including humans) within the ecosystem. Society will have to embrace a better understanding and recognition of the importance of sustainable practices rather than the extremely high energy expenditures and horrendous water waste which occurs with many current products and practices. Population restrictions or other limitations may be required as the society continues to grow in unplanned and unanticipated ways.


    Bartelli, L. J., A. A. Klingebiel, J. V. Baird and M. R. Heddleson. 1966. Soil surveys and land use planning. Soil Science Society of America and American Society of Agronomy. Madison, WI.

    Beatty, Marvin T., Gary W. Petersen, and Lester D. Swindale. 1979. Planning the uses and management of land. Agronomy 21. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, Inc. Madison, WI.

    This page titled 11.1: Information and Activity is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna R. Schwyter & Karen L. Vaughan (UW Open Education Resources (OER)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.