Using soils and land potential as a basis for land use decisions and conservation planning: A resilience-based strategy
Land use decisions are becoming increasingly complex and contentious as demands for food, fiber, energy and infrastructure expand. Recent definitions of “planetary boundaries” and arbitrary land use limits circumscribing the “Safe Operating Space” for humans are helpful in drawing attention to global resource constraints, but fail to recognize that some uses of some types of land result in relatively irreversible changes to the land potential, while others sustain or even restore the capacity of the land to provide a diverse ecosystem services in the future. This paper describes a resilience-based strategy for using soils to sustain long-term land potential, while increasing the supply of land-requiring products and services.
This strategy includes five elements. Each of the elements is based on a simple definition of soil resilience: soil is assumed to be resilient to a particular land use if its capacity to support the currently possible range ecosystem services can be restored within a human generation solely through vegetation management. Land uses are generally resilient if they do not result in modification of the relatively static properties of the soil profile, including texture, depth and mineralogy. Most (but not all) soils, for example, are resilient to soil organic matter losses provided that near-surface soil texture is not modified through erosion or deposition. (1) Identify land already dominated by human use where “ecosystem service gaps” exist by constraining the definition of “gap” to the difference between current yields and the highest yield achievable without a loss of land potential. (2) Identify land where current land use is unsustainable. (3) Carefully match land use and management with land potential, ensuring the maximum sustainable benefit is achieved from each hectare of land. (4) Promote development of new management systems and technologies designed to sustainably exceed current potential. (5) Promote innovation by facilitating more rapid knowledge and information sharing among individuals managing similar types of land. The paper concludes with a brief overview of several new reports and tools, including mobile apps, designed to help land use planners, conservation planners and land managers better match land use with land potential.