Soil is the foundation of life on Earth - Approximately 75% of calories consumed worldwide come from crops grown directly in soil and another 20% come from foods that indirectly rely on soil, like animal products and honey.
Soil doesn’t just support life though, it’s full of life itself! In fact, there are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on Earth! Those microbes are essential for keeping soil healthy and productive. Microbes are responsible for nutrient cycling in soil, for aerating soil, for maintaining soil's structure, and aiding in soil's water retention and filtration abilities.
Their role in soil health contributes to our food sources, plant products, and supporting ecosystems. All of these services total to an estimated value of 1.5 TRILLION dollars per year worldwide!
Some soil practices can harm these organisms and degrade soil though. Chemical applications, general pollution, tilling, and leaving soil bare can all harm soil health. These practices disrupt and can even kill the microbes that keep soil productive, while also degrading the soil's structure and ability to support plants. Any harm to soil comes back to human populations too; Unhealthy soil can lead to lower crop yields, nutrient losses, erosion, water sedimentation, and a general decline of the surrounding ecosystem.
To help protect soil, practice the four principles of soil management:
These principles can be implemented through practices such as no-tilling, mulching, the use of buffers where appropriate, and cover crops. You should avoid tilling because it can disturb the soil’s living biomass and harm the organisms that cycle nutrients to create rich, dark, productive soil. Using diverse cover crops will help your soil because they reduce erosion, improve water retention, enhance the soil’s biomass, and they promote healthy organisms by providing living root systems and organic matter to the soil.
Simple soil management techniques like these can result in soil that reduces erosion, requires less nutrient inputs, manages heavy rain or drought more effectively, retains and filters water, and increases crop yields.
For more tips on promoting soil health and conservation, visit our resources page here!
Indiana has about 4.7 million acres of forest land that is teeming with diversity! Our forests contain more than 85 different tree species and over 100 other plant species that help support the ecosystem. Forest diversity is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem, since every species is intertwined. The high level of biodiversity in our forests also leads to a higher output of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are all of the benefits, both explicit and not, that we receive from the forests. In Indiana those services include temperature moderation seen from vegetation, soil maintenance from the root systems, water conservation and filtration from the plants and soil, and pollinator support from flowering plants.
One of the most obvious services we get from forests though is simply wood itself. About 85% of Indiana's forests are privately owned (that's about 3.8 million acres) and those land owners help support the state's large forestry and timber industry. Forest products manufacturing is a $3 billion a year industry in our state and employs more than 50,000 Hoosiers. That hard work pays off too: Indiana ranks 9th nationally in total lumber production and third in hardwood lumber production!
Harvesting forest products is a very different job than it used to be though. Thats because we know now that if we don't apply conservation practices we could easily lose our forests. Indiana is estimated to have been 85% forestland before modern settlements developed. Forests were cleared to create agricultural land, roads, towns, and to make and sell wood products. By the year 1900 deforestation had left only 8% of Indiana’s land forested. Realizing that we were putting a vital resource at risk, the industry changed over time to ensure that we were protecting our forests. Now, about 20% of Indiana is forested and that number is rising! Our forests are growing by volume more than 3 times as fast as they are being lost.
We still have to work to conserve our forests though. Indiana Forests face threats like disease, wood-boring insects, and invasive species. Of the more than 2,000 species of vascular plants in Indiana, roughly 25 percent are non-native to Indiana and the Department of Natural Resources identifies around 25 of those as invasive species of concern for Indiana woodlands. Invasive species like Asian Bush Honeyscukle for example can reduce the chance of survival among tree saplings. Invasives can even disrupt the forest’s entire ecosystem by introducing species that do not belong in the forest's network. Overtime invasive species can spread until they threaten the ecosystem services that we rely on.
The State of Indiana’s Division of Forestry and the Natural Resource Conservation Service offers a variety of programs to promote forest conservation and health:
NRCS Resources: Click Here
IN DNR Resources: Click Here
You’ve probably heard the saying “April Showers Bring may Flowers!”, but spring downpours bring us something else too: Stormwater.
Stormwater is runoff from rain events. When it flows over impervious surfaces, or the rain is too heavy to soak into the ground it lands on, we direct it into surface waters. Most counties or towns control stormwater through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) which are the systems of gutters, drainage ditches, storm drains, etc used to carry stormwater to streams, lakes, creeks, and rivers. MS4s have to include a large amount of infrastructure, because there is a lot of stormwater to deal with! To get perspective on just how much water we’re talking about, consider the fact that 1” of rain over only 1 acre of land is equivalent to 27,154 gallons of water weighing 113 tons!
So why worry about stormwater? Because unfortunately stormwater can pick up just about everything it flows over before it gets to our surface waters. Stormwater contributes to sediment pollution, the number 1 pollutant in surface waters, but it can also pick up trash, oils, grease, chemicals from building or cars, pesticides, pet wastes, and more.
You can help protect our waters though! Here are a few simple ways you can help prevent stormwater pollution:
Here you'll find our blog posts relating to conservation, soil health, and Monroe County!