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Restoring Forests and Associated Ecosystem Services on Appalachian Coal Surface Mines

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Abstract

Surface coal mining in Appalachia has caused extensive replacement of forest with non-forested land cover, much of which is unmanaged and unproductive. Although forested ecosystems are valued by society for both marketable products and ecosystem services, forests have not been restored on most Appalachian mined lands because traditional reclamation practices, encouraged by regulatory policies, created conditions poorly suited for reforestation. Reclamation scientists have studied productive forests growing on older mine sites, established forest vegetation experimentally on recent mines, and identified mine reclamation practices that encourage forest vegetation re-establishment. Based on these findings, they developed a Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) that can be employed by coal mining firms to restore forest vegetation. Scientists and mine regulators, working collaboratively, have communicated the FRA to the coal industry and to regulatory enforcement personnel. Today, the FRA is used routinely by many coal mining firms, and thousands of mined hectares have been reclaimed to restore productive mine soils and planted with native forest trees. Reclamation of coal mines using the FRA is expected to restore these lands’ capabilities to provide forest-based ecosystem services, such as wood production, atmospheric carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and water quality protection to a greater extent than conventional reclamation practices.

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Acknowledgments

Research conducted by the authors and reviewed in this paper has been supported by numerous sources, including U.S. Office of Surface Mining; U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture, Appalachian Regional Commission, National Mined Land Reclamation Center, state mining agencies in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky; mining and related firms including, Alpha Natural Resources, Appalachian Fuels, Arch Coal, Consol Energy, International Coal Group, National Coal, Norfolk Southern Foundation, Peabody Energy, Penn Virginia Resource Partners, Red River Coal, TECO Coal, and Trinity Coal; The American Chestnut Foundation; and Virginia Tech’s Powell River Project. The first author’s investment of time to prepare this article was supported by Virginia Tech.

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Zipper, C.E., Burger, J.A., Skousen, J.G. et al. Restoring Forests and Associated Ecosystem Services on Appalachian Coal Surface Mines. Environmental Management 47, 751–765 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-011-9670-z

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