SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN COMMISSION
Returning forests to reclaimed mine lands
A million acres! That’s the estimate on how much forestland has been converted to compacted meadow-type land uses through typical coal mine reclamation practices in Appalachia. While that is a depressing number to consider, it should also be looked upon as potential. Potential land that could be converted back to forests through mine-land reforestation projects utilizing the Appalachian Region Reforestation Initiative’s Forest Reclamation Approach (FRA).
Reforestation of these mine lands increases every year thanks to partnerships between organizations and agencies like Green Forests Work, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. Some projects are occurring on reclaimed mine-lands held by private landowners, like the Janocko Reforestation Project in the headwaters of Moshannon Creek in Centre County. Other properties are held in the public trust, like the large-scale reforestation projects that are occurring on sites owned by the Altoona City Water Authority. This project alone will, over time, improve the quantity and quality of the potable water resources used by 23,000 customers and 70,000 residents within Blair County.
Due to the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the reauthorization of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act, and increased private source interests, it is anticipated that funding for these reforestation projects will continue to increase. Consequently, this partnership is always searching for formally mined areas that could be reverted back using FRA practices. This approach includes soil de-compaction using a 4-foot ripping shank large dozer attachment, creating 8-feet by 8-feet cross-ripped centers, followed by the planting of 700 trees per acre composed of a mix of hardwood trees and wildlife habitat shrubs.
Mine-land reforestation has so many benefits. From carbon sequestration to improved and increased wildlife habitat, improved water quality, and reductions in flooding due to precipitation retention and uptake, everyone working in the field of environmental restoration can find their own remediation priority that reforestation provides.
If interested in learning more, or if you know of a project that should be considered, contacting any of the above mentioned partners is a good start. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to educate more about the process and to add acreage to our future projects lists.
Thomas Clark, Mine Drainage Program Coordinator, Susquehanna River Basin Commission