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Restoration Project Recovering Forests, Jobs in Western Pennsylvania

Kato, Penn, May 5, 2011 - A year-long project by the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) and several partners to restore abandoned strip mines to quality forest will culminate with students and conservationists gathering at Sproul State Forest near Kato, Penn. on Friday, May 6, where they will plant several hundred American chestnut trees.

“This project is benefitting people in so many ways,” said Susan Stout, research forester with the Northern Research Station. “It’s taking a non-native, post-mine landscape and transforming it into productive, early successional forest habitat – a habitat in short supply in the state. It’s creating jobs in an area that has suffered in a tough economy, and it’s bringing back the majestic American chestnut.”

The forest restoration project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the theme of “recovery” runs through nearly every aspect of the project.

Recovery of native tree species and composition on a landscape that experienced surface mining is the project’s ultimate goal. Surface mining for coal creates extensive environmental disturbance, and in the past reclamation efforts have done little to erase its effects. In Appalachia, reclamation has often been aimed at creating hay and pasture following mining activities rather than restoring what was once structurally and botanically diverse deciduous forest. The result was compacted soil planted to non-native grasslands with little plant diversity and little value for either the environment or landowners. The ARRI designed the alternative treatment, and this project on the Sproul State Forest is the first use of this technique in Pennsylvania.

The project is also a milestone in the recovery of the American chestnut, a tree that once dominated the eastern United States but has become rare over the past century as trees were killed by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica. Efforts to cross the American chestnut with the fungus-resistant Chinese chestnut resulted in a hybrid that was resistant to Cryphonectria parasitica but lacked the superior timber quality of the American chestnut. In recent years, researchers have been using a "back-crossing" technique where the resistant hybrids are successively backcrossed to the original American tree in order to flood more American genes into the hybrid. Trees that will be planted on Friday were donated by the American Chestnut Foundation.

The project lays important groundwork for another recovery. “The conditions on old surface mines are similar to those after the drilling of wells for natural gas,” according to Jeffrey Larkin, associate professor of ecology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “The techniques employed on this old coal mine may point the way to recovery for those well sites after the heavy drilling equipment is gone.”

As an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project, reclaiming surface mining lands addresses two important goals for the region: jobs and an improved environment. The project has employed people in Western Pennsylvania to prepare the soil, fence areas to protect seedlings from deer, and plant thousands of trees of a mix of native species.

Partners in the Western Pennsylvania restoration project include the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the Office of Surface Mining, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, the American Chestnut Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. The mission of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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Last modified: May 5, 2011