Soil quality monitoring is divided into three types, defined by purpose. Implementation monitoring and effectiveness monitoring aid in the evaluation of forest management policy compliance and the success of implemented practices. Validation monitoring is a tool used by researchers to assess the appropriateness of management practices before they are applied.

Two quantitative procedures are involved in soil quality monitoring. The first is measurement, or assessment of those parameters which indicate the level of acceptability of soil quality at a site. The second is comparison of measurements from before and after an activity. Such comparisons are at the core of effectiveness monitoring. Results will indicate whether an activity has degraded, maintained or improved soil quality.

Measurement of Soil Quality

In order for monitoring to be meaningful and totally effective, soil characteristics should be measured both before and after an activity. (Howes, et al. 1983 [PDF - 3.2 MB]; Geist et al. 1991 [HTML])

Spatial and temporal interpretation of soil quality will be affected by the number, location, geometry and timing of measurements collected in a variable landscape (Halvorson, et al. 1997 [HTML]). There will be enough variation across an activity area to require a sampling strategy which will capture the effects of disturbance. Each activity should be considered individually, as each has its unique set of effects, varying by method, spatial scale, season of occurrence and other factors.

See also: Sampling Strategies - Sample Design - Sampling Techniques


  • WO-WSA-2 – Proceedings of the Soil Quality Standards Symposium (PDF - 4 MB), Oct. 23, 1990, San Antonio, TX, USDA Forest Service Watershed and Air Management, WO-WSA-2, Washington D.C., February 1992.
    [Papers within publication that concern measurement are Current Application of Soil Quality Standards by R. W. Griffith, C. Goudey and Roger Poff; Soil Physical Properties as a Measure of Cropland Productivity by K. R. Olson; Soil Porosity as an Indication of Forest and Rangeland Soil Condition (Compaction) and Relative Productivity by E. B. Alexander and J. C. McLaughlin]


Comparison of monitoring results from before and after an activity should reveal a change in soil condition or quality. The degree of change in soil properties is the measure that the soil scientist uses to determine if an activity has had an undesirable effect on the ability of the soil to continue to support the regeneration and growth of the vegetation that previously grew on the site.

When detrimental change either approaches or exceeds acceptable levels on a site, whether due to human activity or natural events, there are options available for mitigation of the noted effects. Ameliorative methods must be carefully implemented to ensure that the "cure" is not worse than the condition.

Some suggested methods for mitigation of each type of detrimental effect are presented. (see Guidelines [HTML] by topic and go to "Solutions").