Reforesting Former Appalachian Mining Sites

Volunteers in Kentucky are gathering to plant millions of trees in a massive reforestation project to undo the damages caused to Appalachian mining sites.

Last week, about 70 volunteers came into Blackey, Kentucky as a part of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, a movement led by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to plant thousands of trees on lands that were left barren by coal mining projects.

“We’ve got an estimated 741,000 acres in Appalachia that are barren,” Sam Adams, the Kentucky coordinator for the conservation group Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team, told the AP.

“If we put a dent in that, if we could correct that, I think it’s well worth doing.”

Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, a staff member of the UN Environment Program’s Regional Office of North America, said the goal to plant some 38 million trees on Appalachian mine sites is “a significant commitment, and we hope for much more to come.”

“Whatever effort is being undertaken to rehabilitate forests, we are happy about it,” said Guilbaud-Cox. She is expected to visit a mine site in eastern Kentucky on Saturday.

The project is an important step in working to fight global warming because large forests are effective in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, she told the AP.

Coal companies have been urged by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to restore the regions that were once characterized by dense forests of oaks, hickories and other hardwoods.

New research has shown that former mine lands can be reforested. It was previously considered impossible.

“In terms of the growth rate, some of them are similar to natural forests,” said University of Kentucky forester John Lhotka.

Dense forests also help reduce the risk of downstream flooding and erosion and pollution, Angel told the AP.

“If the mine soils are compacted like a Wal-Mart parking lot, where you have 100 percent runoff, zero percent infiltration of rainwater, you can imagine what kind of erosion and gullying will occur,” Patrick Angel, a Kentucky-based forester with the Office of Surface Mining, told the AP.

“There’s no force in nature more powerful than running water. With this forestry reclamation approach, mine soils are very loose and porous, such that water is soaked up like a sponge.”

“There are many hundreds of thousands of acres of barren grasslands in what was prior to mining forest land,” he said.

“There’s very little cattle infrastructure in the mountains, not enough to justify the amount of grasslands that have been created. A higher and better use would be to return them to forest land.”

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