OFFICE of SURFACE MINING
RECLAMATION and ENFORCEMENT

U.S. Department of the Interior

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INDIANA REFORESTATION RESEARCH

provided by:


University of Tennessee| Institute of Agriculture

Project Abstract

Integrating the Forestry Reclamation Approach for Mine Reclamation of American Chestnut and Oaks in the Mid-Continent Region

Topic of Interest: Reforestation Issues

This proposal focuses on restoration of reclaimed mine sites by promoting successful plantation establishment of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) and high quality oak (Quercus spp.) seedlings through application of new, cost effective reforestation technologies. On a Peabody Energy mine site in southwestern Indiana, we will examine effects of loose grading during soil preparation on seedling survival and growth, physiology, shoot and root biomass allocation, and soil characteristics. Blight-resistant American chestnuts will be provided by the breeding program of the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center at Purdue University. Study objectives are to i) evaluate influence of loosely dumped soil replacement in association with the Forest Reclamation Approach on selected chemical (e.g., nutrient availability, pH) and physical (e.g., compaction/bulk density, water holding capacity and infiltration rates) properties of the rooting media, and surface soil erosion, ii) determine the effects of varying soil replacement techniques on survival, growth, rooting strategies, and nutrient uptake of planted seedlings, iii) explore physiological and nutritional mechanisms that explain improved performance under imposed treatments, iv) determine suitability of American chestnut and selected oak species for restoration of reclaimed mine sites in the Midwestern Coal Region, and v) assess feasibility of using hand planting for mine reclamation in this region. Our goal is to devise and refine a practical, cost-efficient, and effective management approach that promotes seedling growth to rapidly reach free-to-grow status and avert animal browsing. This proposed research project is a multi-state partnership between Purdue University and Southern Illinois University in direct collaboration with industry (Peabody Energy) and with support of the Indiana and Illinois Departments of Natural Resources. This applied research will provide much needed technology transfer specific to mine reclamation in the Midwestern Coal Region, yet will also have direct technical application to mine reclamation throughout the eastern U.S. The expertise of the investigators will ensure that study results are effectively disseminated through published materials, presentations at professional workshops or conferences, and field days.

Project Description

Objectives

This proposal focuses on integrating soil replacement techniques associated with the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) to help establish productive high-value hardwood forests on reclaimed coal mined lands in Indiana (Midwestern Coal Region). The proposed study is a joint effort between the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, Southern Illinois University, and Peabody Energy in direct response to the initiative of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) Mid-Continent Regional Office (MRC) to expand its reforestation efforts in the Mid-Continent States. Our proposed study also supports the joint efforts of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Divisions of Reclamation and Forestry as well as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Divisions of Land Reclamation and Forest Resources to promote reforestation on mined land. We will examine effects of varying soil replacement strategies on survival, growth, and nutrient uptake of putatively blight-resistant hybrid American chestnut (Castanea dentata) and oak (Quercus spp.) seedlings on reclaimed mine sites. The project is modeled after the FRA, which has been broadly adapted in the eastern U.S., but modified for the soil conditions and tree species that predominate in the Midwestern Coal Region. We will compare the currently approved soil replacement strategy followed by grading to approximate original contour (AOC) to replaced soil dumped in piles. Our proposal builds upon other ongoing applied mine reclamation research in other regions examining use of loose grading because we will emphasize investigation of belowground dynamics (i.e., seedling rooting strategies) as affected by changes in soil physical and nutritional mechanisms under imposed soil replacement treatments. Seedlings will be planted using hand planting crews, which deviates from the machine tree planting typical of standard operation in this region, and will help allow us to assess feasibility of this method. The proposed study will be conducted at Peabody Energy's Somerville Mine located between Evansville and Oakland City, Indiana. Study objectives are designed to devise a practical, cost-efficient, and effective management approach that promotes seedling growth to reach free-to-grow status sooner and avert animal browsing, thereby facilitating mine reclamation success.

Specific objectives include:

  • Evaluate influence of loosely dumped soil replacement in association with the FRA on selected chemical (e.g., nutrient availability, pH) and physical properties (e.g., compaction/bulk density, water holding capacity and infiltration rates) of the rooting media and surface soil erosion.
  • Determine the influence of varying soil replacement techniques on the survival, growth, rooting strategies, and nutrient uptake of planted seedlings of American chestnut and high-value oak species.
  • Explore physiological and nutritional mechanisms that explain improved performance under imposed treatments.
  • Evaluate suitability of American chestnut and selected oak species for restoration of reclaimed mine sites in the Midwestern Coal Region.
  • Assess potential for use of hand planting in mine reclamation in this region.
  • Establish a demonstration site specific to the Midwestern Coal Region for use in extension field days and workshops.

Project implementation and expected outcomes of the current proposed project will be accomplished within two years. However, we expect that this project will continue with more in-depth analysis for the duration of at least five growing seasons (i.e., period required for bond release) and result in numerous communications via technology transfer and outreach programs, conference presentations, and extension or scientific publications. This research will provide an important demonstration to illustrate the potential to use loose grading as per the FRA on mine reclamation sites in the Mid-Continent Region. This type of demonstration site has proven important for promoting operational implementation of cost-effective reforestation technologies on mine reclamation sites in other regions (e.g., Jockey Hollow in Harrison County, Ohio) but no such sites currently exists in the Midwestern Coal Region. The proposal will also complement and support related studies we currently have established in cooperation with Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Division of Reclamation. Examples include evaluation of suitability of nutrient loaded nursery seedlings for restoration of mine sites (Salifu et al. 2009), and examination of the interaction between fertilization and deer browse pressure on seedling performance on mine sites (project funded by IDNR Reclamation in 2007).

Douglass F. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center,
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University
715 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907
Phone: (765) 494-3608
Email: djacobs@purdue.edu

Phillip E. Pope, Ph.D.
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University
715 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907
Phone: (765) 494-3593
Email: ppope@purdue.edu

Ronald A. Rathfon
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University
12000 Purdue Farm Road, Dubois, IN 47527
812-678-5049
ronr@purdue.edu

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