Environmental stewardship is at the very heart of modern mining. Today’s mining projects begin with extensive environmental studies and end with land that is improved for a variety of uses, depending on the location and community needs. But what do we mean by reclamation, anyway?
Reclamation is the process of re-establishing the landscape and vegetation after mining activity has ended. As for what the land looks like afterwards, it varies. Reclaimed land can be utilized for wildlife habitat, domestic livestock grazing or recreational facilities. But reclamation begins long before a mine closes; it is planned for, reviewed and approved by regulators when the mine is being designed and is a part of all stages of mining. It’s a long process – decades in the making – but it’s an important part of the lifecycle of the mine and a necessary component of environmental responsibility.
During the planning stage, information is gathered concerning soils, vegetation, wildlife and many other environmental factors. Data are used, in consultation with multiple stakeholders, to figure out what the land will look like once mining activity has ended. Reclamation research to test seeding/planting practices and related aspects begins often at the time of exploration and mine construction. Where possible, those areas no longer needed for mining are restored while the rest of the mine is in operation.
Whether reclamation is considered successful depends on criteria determined before any mining commences. After reclamation, the soils, water, vegetation and wildlife are monitored to ensure the reclamation criteria are achieved. For good reason, mine operators are proud of their mine sites and strive to ensure a legacy of a properly reclaimed mine, and the versatility of reclaimed mine lands extends from Nevada to Indiana to Central Appalachia with a focus on sustainability and use of the land for generations that follow.
For example, the Barren Fork Pit, a part of Peabody’s Wild Boar Mine, was lauded in 2018 for its innovative approach to successfully reclaiming forest and wildlife areas. Peabody replaced soil at the site and enhanced forest areas with a mix of wildlife habitat including 11 shallow water wildlife depressions, small water impoundments and more than 100 rock brush piles. Raptors and other wildlife now utilize the reclaimed mine land. The work earned the Wild Boar Mine the 2018 National Reclamation Award in the coal category from the Interstate Mining Compact Commission. Wild Boar also received the Excellence in Surface Coal Mining National Award in 2018 from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for reclamation work completed at the mine.
Newmont Mining Corporation received the Nevada Excellence in Mine Reclamation Award in 2017 for Concurrent Exploration Reclamation; the Chevas and High Desert areas have undergone extensive, ongoing revegetation using seed mixtures to improve the habitat of the local mule deer. Additionally, access roads and travel routes were planned and constructed to facilitate eventual reclamation, reducing the disturbance of the site right from the very beginning of mining.
Arch Coal has created more than 200 acres of new wetlands on its reclaimed lands in Central Appalachia – where wetlands are scarce. These new and enhanced water sources attract and sustain an abundance of wildlife. Also, over the past five years, Arch has planted more than one million trees on reclaimed mine sites in West Virginia.
Arch Coal’s Coal Mac operation recently received the Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Reclamation Award from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for the development and use of multiple methods to protect water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. Since 2012, Arch’s Appalachian operations have earned the top honor for mine reclamation in West Virginia nine times.
Environmental stewardship and reclamation are as much a part of mining today as exploration and development. Through replenishing the soil and encouraging the return of wildlife, the mining industry is ensuring its footprint is smaller than ever before.