When we talk about conservation, most people think about protecting landscapes and wildlife and ensuring clean air and water. What they’re probably not thinking about is soil.
But soil is more than just our geological backdrop. Healthy soil means healthy landscapes and water systems—it’s the basis of all life and provides water, food, clean air, a stable climate and good health.
Since joining The Nature Conservancy a year ago, I’ve been on the road talking to many people about their soil. As a soil scientist, I’m eager to learn more about where and how we work, and also to raise the profile of one of our most important conservation strategies – how and why soil is critical for our future.
Scientists like myself focus on the biological, chemical and physical properties that make soil one of the most precious materials on Earth. We explore the ways soils are living ecosystems that support the growth of plants, filter and regulate the cycling of water, decompose and recycle materials—and store more than twice as much carbon as in the atmosphere. We are also fascinated with the complexity, what we still don’t know about soil biology and how it functions – the uncertainties, the unknowns.
But what strikes me most when I talk to people about their soil—on their farms, ranches or conservancies—is their passion. Passion to dig into the dirt and to get immersed in the creative process of restoring soils, building soil organic matter, feeding and nurturing soil biology. The places I have visited are varied geographically and culturally but all share the same need and drive to care for their soil.