Oregon has some of the most productive soil in the world. Soil mapping done by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is the most common tool used for identifying the types of soils in an area. The NRCS provides a rating for each soil type that indicates how suited the soil is for agriculture. Oregon’s land use laws help keep the best soils for crop cultivation and agricultural use. Soils that are less productive have more opportunities for development than higher quality soils.
NRCS does not have the ability to map each parcel of land, so it looks at larger areas. This means that the map may miss a pocket of different soils. DLCD has a process landowners can use to challenge NRCS soils information on a specific property. Owners who believe soil on their property has been incorrectly mapped may retain a "professional soil classifier…certified by and in good standing with the Soil Science Society of America" (ORS 215.211) through a process administered by DLCD. This soils professional can conduct an assessment that may result in a change of the allowable uses for a property.
Applicability and Process
Soil capability is a measure the soil's productivity potential for farm crops and forests. The rules for an assessment of a soil's productivity apply to land zoned exclusive farm use or for mixed farm and forest use (OAR 660-033-0045). They also apply to rezoning forestland for non-resource use when the applicant relies on alternate soils information to show that the land should not be agricultural. The rules can apply to other changes as well, including those for comprehensive plan designations, zoning, non-farm land divisions, and certain dwellings.
DLCD maintains a list of soils professionals who are qualified to help landowners prepare a property-specific soil assessment. Other soil consultants may be qualified but are not allowed to take part in the program unless they apply to DLCD. A property owner must select a professional from the list below in order to use non-NRCS soils data in a land use application. The soils professional conducts a site investigation and prepares a soils assessment for review by DLCD.
DLCD will review the soils assessment upon receiving a completed application form and the $625 fee. Occasionally soils assessments are audited by a DLCD soils consultant who may need to go to the subject site to investigate. The owner's soils professional is given an opportunity to correct any issues identified by DLCD. DLCD does not submit a soils assessment to a local government without applicant consent and a completed Soils Assessment Release Form.
Landowners who desire to use non-NRCS agricultural soil capability data in a land use application must retain a certified professional from the table below. This listing is not an endorsement, and those requesting a soil assessment should get references and bids from more than one person.
Local Government's Role
A soils assessment is usually part of a larger application for land use permit or zone change. Local governments do not have to agree with the results of a DLCD-approved soils assessment and it is the applicant's responsibility to address local government requirements during the land use proceeding.
Listing Your Soil Service with DLCD
DLCD welcomes applications from Certified Professional Soil Classifiers and Certified Professional Soil Scientists (CPSS) who want to be listed as an approved soils professional. Applications from CPSSs will be reviewed by an independent panel of soils professionals for adequate education and experience in soil classification and mapping.
To apply, please contact the department for details on the application process. You will be provided with a Soils Professional Application and the Professional Experience Form. When completed, return the forms to the DLCD Farm & Forest Lands Specialist. Professionals on the list must maintain good standing with SSSA.