With partners at the local, state, and federal levels, PEC’s reforestation program works to restore forests on legacy coal mines across the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania’s landscapes are scarred from over two centuries of coal mining that resulted in over 15 billion tons of extracted coal. For most of this time, little attention was paid to the environmental consequences. When they were finished with one site, mine operators would move to the next, leaving over 250,000 acres of abandoned mine land (AML) in their wake.
Since the passing of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, over 55,000 acres of AML have been reclaimed using traditional reclamation practices – heavy machinery backfills the mined area, and the ground is heavily compacted, graded, and revegetated often using fast-growing grasses and forbs. When trees are planted using traditional reclamation practices, these aggressive groundcovers may outcompete tree seedlings. The establishment of tree cover is further hindered by compacted and poor-quality soil. In this environment, invasive and exotic species thrive and healthy, native forests do not. These unproductive and unnatural sites, commonly referred to as legacy mine lands, can negatively impact forest health, jeopardize wildlife habitats, and pollute our waterways.
While AML sites are well inventoried, legacy mine land is not. It is believed that there are 200,000 acres of legacy mine land in Pennsylvania in need of proper reforestation. Despite the abundant need, the restoration of legacy mine lands is not funded through the federal AML program that is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Abandoned Mine Lands. To the end, with partners at the local, state, and federal levels, PEC’s reforestation program works to restore forests on legacy mine land across the Commonwealth.
PEC’s Reforestation Program advances the goals of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), a joint initiative between the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and six coal-impacted states using the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) to restore healthy, productive forests on former mine lands. The FRA includes creating a suitable and uncompacted growing medium, planting compatible ground covers and various species of native trees, and using proper planting techniques. Restoring native forest land using the FRA improves water quality and soil chemistry, reduces erosion and sedimentary runoff, increases biodiversity, increases carbon sequestration, improves forest connectivity, creates wildlife habitat, and enhances wild character within Pennsylvania’s forests.
When project sites are easily accessible and the land manager approves, PEC coordinates volunteer tree planting events to engage the local community for educational purposes, create opportunities for hands-on environmental restoration, and raise awareness of this important work.
PEC’s reforestation of legacy mine land is not completed alone, but through working closely with many committed partners on the ground, including: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Green Forests Works, The American Chestnut Foundation, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and many others.