Hundreds of northeastern Pennsylvanians celebrated Earth Day 2017 by helping to reforest abandoned mine land sites in two state forests. Volunteers planted a total of more than ten thousand seedlings including aspen, white pine, pitch pine, table mountain pine, scrub oak, chestnut oak, and American chestnut across five acres of Weiser State Forest and ten acres at Pinchot State Forest.
Past mining disturbance and site reclamation activities have made the sites inhospitable to trees: digging, filling, leveling and stabilization using heavy equipment resulted in hardened, poor-quality soils that prevent rainfall infiltration and inhibit tree growth. To remediate these conditions, both sites were mechanically “ripped” to a depth of 3 feet, allowing rainfall to infiltrate and be absorbed by trees’ roots, and making it possible for tiny seedlings grow easily and quickly in the loosened soil. Over time, the trees and the annual dropping of leaves will rebuild the soil chemistry organically and help improve water quality.
Planting trees on barren mine lands in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Basin is a joint initiative of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), a non-profit statewide environmental organization. The Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation is another key partner. The goal is to restore forest habitat on disturbed mine land sites and thereby enhance water quality in the Susquehanna River watershed.
“This planting is important because it helps us at the Bureau of Forestry to achieve our mission to improve the quality and quantity of early successional forest habitat which is home to specific species such as prairie warblers, golden-winged warblers, ruffed grouse, and cottontail rabbits,” said Weiser District Forester Tim Ladner.
In coordination with Forestry staff, PEC hired a local contractor to prep the sites for planting – a deep mechanical “ripping” – and recruited and supported local volunteers. PEC’s role is privately funded by the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, and several thousand dollars were spent in the local area on the ripping, food, and other services.
“It’s wonderful to see so many friends and neighbors giving up part of their weekend to come together around a conservation project,” said Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), who joined more than 150 area residents for the event at Pinchot State Forest. “Earth Day projects sponsored by PEC are a great example of citizens working in concert with DCNR and other partners to make a difference in their community.”
Volunteers at the Weiser site included residents from Shamokin, Catawissa, Elysburg and other nearby towns. In addition, a dozen members of Bucknell University’s football team participated, as did 40 students from Susquehanna University, including members of the Alpha Phi Omega community-service fraternity.
“We welcome partnerships with many aspects of State Forest lands,” Pinchot State Forest Assistant Manager John Maza said. “If people feel an ‘ownership’ of the State Forest, they will assist with the stewardship of those lands.”
A long-term goal of PEC’s reforestation initiative is to enhance water quality in the Susquehanna watershed. It is estimated that more than 10,000 acres of barren mine land sites exist within the Susquehanna basin contributing to the degradation of streams impacted by mine site drainage.
“By working together, Pennsylvanians can heal the environmental wounds of past industrial practices that degrade our landscape,” said PEC President Davitt Woodwell. “I am thrilled by the volunteer turnout at Weiser and at another tree planting at Avondale in the Pinchot State Forest – nearly 400 Pennsylvanians – young and old working together and learning how to heal our abandoned barren mind land problem site by site, tree by tree.”