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Forest Disturbance Processes

Reclaiming and Restoring Lands Degraded from Mining

Research Issue

[image:] Landscape before mining.[photo:] Mountain-top during mining. Mining operations in the eastern United States have heavily degraded extensive areas of land, especially in West Virginia. Throughout the state and in the southern coalfield current post-mining land use (PMLU) often leads to underutilization of natural resources and deterioration of essential ecosystem services (e.g. providing food/fiber, flood/erosion control, water quality, etc.). Establishing bioenergy farms as PMLU and implementing proper management practices will restore ecosystem services and provide the resources to maintain sustainable, carbon-neutral energy production industries. Development of such land use, especially across the economically hard hit areas in the southern coalfields, will provide the economic engine needed to revitalize local communities and their economies, counterbalancing the declining economic impact inflicted by the contraction of the coal industry. Bioenergy farms will be pivotal in such diversification and revitalization while improving quality of life and standard of living of the affected communities.   


Our Research

We established a local bioenergy demonstration farm to advance mine reclamation phytotechnologies, adapt best management practices, and overcome the barriers described above. While black locust is a common woody species grown on surface-mined lands that has shown potential as bioenergy feedstock, other genera and species have exhibited substantial potential for biomass production on such sites. Given their extensive genetic variation and successful utilization on a variety of liability lands, poplars are ideal candidates for mine reclamation. Selection of specific hybrid poplar varieties has resulted in 10-fold increases in biomass potential, which corroborates the importance of conducting species trials such as those in the current project.   

Expected Outcomes

This information is important for industry leaders, policymakers, and resource managers interested in enhancing ecological recovery on heavily disturbed lands following mining operations. Researchers will also gain vital information for understanding the potential of trees other than black locust for mine site reclamation and restoration. Additional outcomes include establishing a partnership between state and federal research institutes, landowners, and economic developers; reforestation of 45 acres; establishment of a black locust and poplar bioenergy farms (for education, outreach, and research activities); initial selection of favorable poplar varieties for surface-mine reforestation; experience of undergraduate students in reclamation and reforestation practices and operation.   

Research Results

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Headlee, W.L. 2014. Using environmental remediation to enhance afforestation and reforestation. In: 3rd Science in the Northwoods Conference; October 15-17, 2014; Boulder Junction, WI.

Zalesny, R.S. Jr. 2012. A review of North American Populus phytotechnologies research published from 1989 to 2011. In: 9th Conference of the International Phytotechnology Society: Phytotechnologies – Plant-based Strategies to Clean Water, Soil, Air and Provide Ecosystem Services; September 11-14, 2012; Hasselt, University, Diepenbeek, Belgium.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Amir Hass, West Virginia State University, Agricultural and Environmental Research Station, Institute, WV
  • Ronald S. Zalesny Jr., US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist

Research Partners

Last Modified: October 4, 2016