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Reclamation Reforestation

Published: April 11, 2024 by

Surface mining changes the landscape in almost every conceivable way. Large portions of the terrain are leveled to access minerals below, and as heavy machinery works across the land the sloped hillsides become benched and compacted. Even the topsoil is impacted as it is scraped away, revealing the nutrient poor brown and gray mine soils below. When mining operations are completed, the previously forested mine site is nearly devoid of vegetation, increasing the risk of erosion. To mitigate this risk, these areas are often reseeded with non-native grasses and shrubs that can take over the open site and surrounding understory, preventing native species from establishing at the mine site.

There has been increasing interest in a complete restoration of these mine sites through reclamation reforestation–the introduction of native forest cover that provides a greater range of ecosystem services. Forests address the initial erosion risk by anchoring the soil in place with their roots; they also deposit large quantities of leaf litter that filter sediment and nutrients from runoff, restoring the topsoil. Additionally, forests provide a greater variety of habitat by supporting a wider array of structures including dead wood and raised nesting platforms. And finally, reforestation improves the aesthetics of these degraded lands by healing the visual scar created by clearing vegetation and compacting the soils. These benefits are greatest around streams and riparian areas where filtration and erosion control have the largest effect on water quality, and where canopy cover will reduce the temperature of the water below for fish and amphibians.

Unfortunately, few of the benefits that come with reforestation can be monetized. Timber can be harvested and sold but clean water, habitat, and scenic beauty are not commodities that can be traded. For this reason, ecosystem services are often not included in the cost-benefit analysis that goes into mine reclamation. But this is beginning to change. Ecosystem services are playing more of a role in decision making at the local, state, and national levels. Public interest in environmental action and climate change mitigation has resulted in increased carbon prices, and mine reclamation sites are great opportunities for organizations like The Climate Trust (TCT) to demonstrate the value of reforestation carbon projects.

TCT funds and manages reforestation projects to restore diverse ecosystems and build climate resiliency.  Reforestation offers one of the greatest opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and store carbon than any other nature-based solution, and TCT is excited to explore opportunities for comprehensive ecological restoration on degraded mining lands.

Further Reading:

Li-KY.pdf (