U.S. Department of the Interior

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__________________________ FOREST RECLAMATION ADVISORIES __________________________ FORESTRY RECLAMATION APPROACH __________________________
__________________________ MINED LAND REFORESTATION CONFERENCES __________________________ PLANTING TREES ON LEGACY MINES __________________________ REFORESTATION AWARDS __________________________ REFORESTATION RESEARCH __________________________ STATE AND PRIVATE NURSERIES __________________________ STATEMENT OF MUTUAL INTENT





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University of Kentucky (UK) logo

Project Abstract

Principal Investigators: Donald Graves, Christopher Barton, Richard Warner, Carmen Agouridis, and Rick Sweigard , Patrick Angel

Collaboration: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and KY Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

Funding: USDA Forest Service, US Department of Energy and KY Fish and Wildlife, Stream Mitigation Team

Industry Support: Appalachian Fuels, Charolais, LCC, Cyprus Amex, Peabody Energy, Pittston Coal, AEI, TECO Coal and Big Elk Coal

Since 1980, an estimated 1.2 million acres were permitted for coal miningrepresenting nearly 5% of the state's total land area. Nearly 98% of currently permitted mining is in Eastern Kentucky. Many economic, environmental and ecological challenges have resulted from these mining activities. Flooding and poor water quality, loss of forest habitat and associated biota, and a devaluation of the land base are but a few of the problems facing the region. The Appalachian area has been historically poor, and the successful reestablishment of the highly diverse mixed-mesophytic forest ecosystem that once dominated these sites will provide a renewable and sustainable multi-use resource that will create economic opportunities while enhancing local and global environmental conditions.

At the University of Kentucky, we have undertaken a large-scale project to simultaneously address several coal mining related environmental and ecological problems. As such, specific research projects pertaining to mine land reforestation, headwater stream restoration, water quality improvement, wildlife habitat enhancement, and atmospheric CO2 mitigation are underway.

Objectives of the projects include:

  • develop and verify reforestation techniques on post-mined lands using high value hardwood tree species,
  • develop concepts that promote terrestrial carbon sequestration through reforestation which combine capture and storage of CO2 with concomitant reduction of criteria-pollutant emissions,
  • develop and demonstrate reclamation methods that will reduce flooding potential and decrease water quality impairments to downstream systems,
  • establish techniques for the reintroduction of native herbaceous species on mined lands and for the enhancement of habitat to sustain wildlife populations,
  • establish techniques for the introduction of American chestnut hybrids on mined lands,
  • develop methods for the enhancement and restoration of headwater stream systems that are lost due to filling activities, and
  • evaluate the potential for using forest products grown on reclaimed or previously abandoned mine sites as “green” feedstocks for power plants in lieu of coal (i.e., establish a CO2 recycling system through forest plantations).

Public Law 95-87, the Surface Mine Reclamation Act, was established in 1977 to regulate environmental impacts of surface mining. The act requires that mined lands be returned to their approximate origin contour. The extensive spoil compaction needed to recontour these sites, however, has severely hindered tree growth and has resulted in a landscape dominated by pasture where forests once stood. The physical impediments on compacted minesoils truncate the volume of soil available for root expansion and limit forest growth. The reduced volume of fine materials also directly alters both water and nutrient availability and may ultimately result in seedling mortality. In addition, results have shown that compaction not only limits seedling growth and increases mortality, but potential off-site environmental impacts (decreased water infiltration, increased runoff, and export of sediment) have been observed. With the development of low compaction reclamation techniques and other new reclamation methods intended for minimizing environmental and ecological damage, potential benefits for the citizens of Kentucky from this research include:

  • Tree planting on surface mines returns economic and ecologic diversity to the impacted areas,
  • High value hardwood forests provide opportunities for a growing wood industry and potentials for employment of local residents,
  • Rapid growing trees sequester large quantities of carbon both above and below ground,
  • High quality trees that are intensively managed and converted into furniture and manufactured structures become long-term carbon sinks,
  • Timber stands provide for a variety of wildlife enhancements as it progresses from initiation to maturity and again as it is regenerated.
  • Timber stands provide for a variety of recreation activities ranging from hiking, camping and fishing to the development of resource-based resorts,
  • Improved capacity of the landscape to resist potential vegetative impacts by elk,
  • Improved reclamation techniques that promote low compaction spoil placement and ripping of previously compacted spoils provides a variety of substantial benefits.
    • Enhanced rainfall/runoff surface storage
    • Rapid infiltration
    • Smaller peak flows (reduced flooding)
      • Additional moisture for tree growth
      • Reduced runoff volume
      • Reduce sedimentation of streams
    • Less erosion and improvement of overall stream water quality.

For more information about surface mine reforestation research in Kentucky, please contact:

Chris Barton
University of Kentucky
Department of Forestry

or visit the UK Reforestation website at:


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