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Washington Licensing of Soil Scientists

For Information – State of Washington -- Update on licensing of soil scientists.

Posted 11/09/05

Below is an executive summary describing proposed soil scientist licensing in Washington. This information was provided to us by Lisa Palazzi, CPSS, Olympia, WA.

Lisa would appreciate anyone sharing with her their experience or information on the value of state licensing for the consumer/general public. The following is her request included in a recent note to the USCSSA.

“If any of your members have specific examples of when a consumer suffered as a result of a non-soil scientist being hired to do work that should have been carried out by a soil scientist, it would greatly help us right now. We are in the process of writing a sunrise report for the legislature that is intended to define whether or not it is worth licensing our profession. The key detail is consumer protection, and that we (some of us) are working independently -- not under the umbrella of individuals that are already licensed and insured (like a P.E.)."

Lisa and others working on the Oregon soil licensing would appreciate any advice and helpful information you would have to offer.

Lisa e-mail and address is:
Lisa Palazzi, CPSS
Pacific Rim Soil & Water, Inc.
1220 4th Avenue East
Olympia, WA 98506
360-534-0346

Summary describing proposed Soil Scientist Licensing

August 25, 2005

The state of Washington enacted legislation in 2001 to license professional geologists. This follows a nationwide trend of licensing scientists that study the earth’s natural resources -- information that is critical to management of systems that affect public health and well-being.

Soil scientists in the state of Washington met with staff at the Department of Licensing in the summer of 2004 to discuss licensing of soil scientists. At that time, it was determined that the most logical way to achieve that goal would be to develop legislation that would license soil scientists under the existing geologists’ licensing program. The geologists’ board has agreed to administer soil scientists under their program, as long as the soil science program is self-supporting (as required by state law). Department of Licensing staff has been of great assistance in this effort.

This licensing program would be accomplished by a new chapter in Title 18 RCW which creates a permanent Advisory Committee of five soil scientists who are conversant with and experienced in the soil science profession, and who are otherwise eligible for licensure. The Committee would carry out the day to day tasks of the licensing program, but would be administered under the geologists’ licensing board. This arrangement reduces program costs by sharing staff. It also ensures that soil scientists have their own peers as the primary reviewers of both applicants and complaints. There is an existing template of this relationship in existence in state law – that of the Licensed Septic System Designers who are licensed under the Professional Engineer’s Board at the Department of Licensing. We used that existing RCW as a template for our proposed legislation.

A major task in the process is to provide a compelling case to convince the legislature that licensing of soil scientists is of benefit to their constituents. As the first step toward accomplishing that goal, we submitted draft legislation to both Senate and House of Representative committees during the 2004/2005 session. We were well-received by both groups, but were asked to prepare a “sunrise” report (as defined in RCW 18.118.030) that would better define the reasoning and statistics behind our request for licensing. We are in the process of preparing that information, and expect to resubmit our draft legislation, accompanied by the sunrise report, during the 2005/2006 session.

As we have described in our draft legislation, in order to be licensed as a soil scientist, the applicants will meet professional requirements equivalent to what is currently defined in the geologists’ licensing bill, i.e. they must provide character references, must document their years of education and curriculum, must document 5 years of professional experience, and must pass a certification examination. It is proposed to use an existing exam that is professionally developed and maintained by the Council of Soil Science Examiners at the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). This is a great benefit as it saves the state thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent to develop and maintain a professional exam.

A one-year grandfathering period is proposed that would license any soil scientist that is currently certified and in good standing with the SSSA. The SSSA professional certification program requirements are identical to those that would be required for licensing with the state. After the one-year grandfathering period is over, any applicant would be required to apply for licensing through the standard channels, including taking the required exam.

To clarify why this legislation is important, we provide a brief review below of the critical issues. Soil scientists study surface and near-surface soil, water and plant resource systems, often in great detail. This work is parallel to and sometimes slightly overlapping with work done by geologists, who typically study deeper and broader-based geologic map units. Soil science, being the study of a baseline system, also overlaps with other professions, such as crop science, forestry, archeology and wetland science, to name just a few. That overlap sometimes creates professional conflict, but is also the greatest source of mutual benefit when it comes to studying and understanding critical interactions between soils and other soil-dependent resources or systems. This understanding and cooperation between professions is vital to proper resource management in both urban and rural settings.

Soil science deals with the study of soil formation, classification, conservation and mapping as well as the study of soil physical, chemical and biological properties that have great impacts on surface and subsurface water quality. Soil scientists’ work can involve mapping soil hydrologic impacts on wetlands, soil infiltration potential, regional flooding potential, erosion control, hazardous waste assessment, soil treatment and/or infiltration of storm water and septic system effluent, land application of wastewater, and other work that involves using soil to treat or dispose of waste products.

Soil not only supports growing plants, but forms the basis of the earth’s primary filter of both water and air-born pollutants. Understanding how soil functions is vital to making wise and informed decisions about how to manage it properly to protect air and water quality.

The Washington Society of Professional Soil Scientists (WSPSS) legislative committee asks that anybody interested in offering support or information to this effort contact the committee chair, Toby Rodgers. Contact information can be found at http://www.ieway.com/wspss/new.pdf .


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The small state soil profiles used above, and the images from the photo collage (Soils All Around Us) are all courtesy of USDA NRCS. Click here to learn more about the images.
State Soils

Nebraska Soil Profile (Holdrege)Did you know that each US state has an official state soil? Learn more from the USDA NRCS State Soils web site.

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