An understanding of the extent of land degradation and recovery is necessary to guide land-use policy and management, yet currently available land-quality assessments are widely known to be inadequate. Here, we present the results of the first statistically based application of a new approach to national assessments that integrates scientific and local knowledge. Qualitative observations completed at over 10 000 plots in the United States showed that while soil degradation remains an issue, loss of biotic integrity is more widespread. Quantitative soil and vegetation data collected at the same locations support the assessments and serve as a baseline for monitoring the effectiveness of policy and management initiatives, including responses to climate change. These results provide the information necessary to support strategic decisions by land managers and policy makers.