The world is shifting toward renewable sources of energy, which means there are plenty of coal mines left unused. However, Green Forests Work, a nonprofit based in Kentucky is working on a solution to restore the once-surface-mined land to its natural glory while generating jobs for local tree planters, equipment operators, and nursery workers.
Approximately six million acres of the US have been impacted by surface mining since 1980. Luckily much of the land has been reclaimed by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMRCA). A good portion of this reclaimed land is located in the Appalachia, which is home to some of the world’s most diverse temperate forestland, so for the revival of this ecosystem’s biodiversity, the SMRCA is striving to use the reclaimed land for pasture or wildlife habitat use.
Restoring reclaimed mines
Surface mining is a method of extracting minerals near the Earth’s surface and normally requires clearing the land of trees before removing the soil and rock to uncover the mineral.
Replanting native trees on surface-mined lands is more complicated than regular planting, and often needs a little more work to ensure that the trees flourish. Green Forests Work accomplishes this by removing non-native species, loosening the compacted soil, and finally replanting native trees by hand.
Generating jobs for those who may have lost them due to the closing down of the coal mine is another benefit of the nonprofit’s initiative. Green Forests Work is able to support the local economy by hiring heavy machinery operators who were formerly employed by mining companies, buying native plant material from regional nurseries, and bringing in local tree planting contractors. It also encourages surrounding communities to get educated and involved by hosting annual volunteer tree planting and awareness events.
Green Forests Work has planted over three million trees across almost 5,000 acres in the Appalachia region since 2009 and is currently working on a surface-mined site outside Williamsburg, Virginia.
A boost for wildlife
One of the long-term goals of the nonprofit is to reforest the site near Daniel Boone National Forest, which was last mined over three decades ago so that it blends in with the neighboring, un-mined woodland surrounding it. Now, the site is a mostly desolate landscape that hosts a few invasive plant species.
Restoring the barren land will improve the air quality, supply food and medicine, provide shelter for wildlife, as well as income for locals who may have been hit financially by the closing down of the coal mines.