World Soil Day is December 5th

by Michelle Foss, Director of Land Stewardship and Research

“Keep soil alive, Protect soil biodiversity” #WorldSoilDay

How often do you think about soil? I mean, REALLY consider soil? And how it differs from dirt? One of the things we stress in our education programs is that soil is very different from dirt – soil is living, and dirt…well, dirt is what you sweep up off the floor. Soil has all kinds of good stuff: microbes, fungi, decomposing plant and animal material, nutrients, and water. Plants need soil to survive, and soil needs plants to keep being productive. So many nutrient cycles require healthy plant and soil activity in order to continue, and properly work together. Take the carbon cycle for example. The amount of carbon that is stored by plants is partially dependent on the health of the soil. If the proper mix of bacteria and fungi is not there, the soil cannot support plant life and it leads to dead spots. Additionally, when soil is not healthy, it can increase erosion and runoff, which then releases any remaining nutrients from the soil into the water. That can affect wetlands, rivers, streams, lakes and even oceans!

Our habitat restoration has already begun to improve soil health. In areas where we have reduced invasive plants, increased sunlight, provided a prescribed fire regime, and thinned our excess trees we are now seeing less erosion and more organic matter in the soil. We anticipate better overall soil health, which will improve our native plant life, and in turn improve soil health even more as we continue our efforts. In an oak woodland system, such as the one predominantly found at Fontenelle Forest, fire is part of the nutrient cycle, as well as a tool to help control invasive plants.

Soil health is essential to not only native habitats and natural areas, but also for agriculture. While we focus on the native habitat here at Fontenelle Forest, it’s all connected. Nutrient cycles, water cycles, soil cycles – none of these recognize borders. Healthy soil in one area can be beneficial in another area, and similarly, depleted soil in one area can cause problems in other areas. So, World Soil Day is a day to really think about soil – and just how important it is. That is why the tag line of “keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity” helps to raise awareness of this critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of ecosystems.

Check out the World Soil Day website at fao.org for some neat activities and more information on how you can learn to #lovethesoil.

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