Restoring Soil Quality and Forests on Mined Land in the Appalachians: Results and Outcomes of a 25-year Research Program.
James A. Burger1, Beyhan Y. Amichev2, and Carl E. Zipper2. (1) Virgnia Tech, Dept of Forestry, 228 Cheatham Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, (2) Virginia Tech, Dept of Forestry, Blacksburg, VA 24061
The mixed mesophytic forest of the central Appalachian coal field region, USA, is one of the most diverse, productive, and valuable temperate forests in the world. Strip mining for coal totally removes the forest ecosystem including the soil and surface geologic strata. Since the implementation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1978, over 500,000 ha of native Appalachian forest land have been converted to mine spoils large portions of which are covered with abandoned, unproductive grass and shrub land; few mines were reforested due to inadequate technology, economic disincentives, and regulatory constraints. A long-term reclamation program was established in 1980 to develop mined land reclamation techniques for creating productive mine soils for forest land uses. Our studies show that soil quality was routinely degraded in the process of mining, but, if properly reclaimed, forest growth and yield of post mining forests can be as productive as native forests. High soil quality can be achieved by creating mine soils made from weathered rock strata mixed with native soils. Soil compaction on mined sites was common; soil building and tillage techniques devised through research greatly increased soil quality. Tree-compatible ground covers were developed for erosion control, and silvicultural practices were modified for mined land applications. Economic analyses showed that our revised reclamation techniques for forestry were cost effective, while meeting all federal and state regulatory requirements. Our studies also show that productive, reforested mined sites can sequester carbon at a rate of 4 Mg ha-1 yr-1, which is important for sequestering and storing carbon released to the atmosphere in the process of burning coal for power production. Based on our research outputs, several states in the Appalachian region have revised their reclamation regulations and guidelines which enables miners to produce high quality mined sites for restoring native forest ecosystems. As a result, thousands of hectares of forest land are being restored for multiple forest values.