Soil quality standards and guidelines for forest sustainability in northwestern North America

Document Type


Publication Date



Soil quality standards and guidelines of the USDA Forest Service were some of the first in the world to be developed to evaluate changes in forest soil productivity and sustainability after harvesting and site preparation. International and national development of criteria and indicators for maintenance of soil productivity make it imperative to have adequate threshold variables within the USDA Forest Service. In the Pacific Northwest, soils range from fine-textured Andisols to coarse-textured skeletal Inceptisols. Forest types encompass the highly productive coastal rain forest to marginally productive, dry, cold sites in the interior mountains. Constant values to detect detrimental disturbances within the soil quality guidelines are routinely applied across diverse soils and timber types and include diagnostic criteria for evaluating management-caused changes to soil productivity. Research information from short- or long-term research studies supporting the applicability of disturbance criteria is often lacking, or is available from a limited number of sites which have relatively narrow climatic and soil ranges. In this paper we calculated changes in soil carbon, nitrogen, erosion, and cation exchange capacity using threshold variables from the Regional USDA Forest Service Soil Guidelines to assess their applicability across diverse landscapes. Soils were selected from a climatic and elevational gradient in the Pacific Northwest. Application of selected USDA Forest Service standards indicate that blanket threshold variables applied over disparate soils do not adequately account for nutrient distribution within the profile or forest floor depth. These types of guidelines should be continually refined to reflect pre-disturbance conditions and site-specific information. Published by Elsevier Science B.V.

Publication Title

Forest Ecology and Management