One Tree at a Time

Laura Bray, Program Coordinator
Laura Bray, Program Coordinator

Planting trees in seemingly unfavorable conditions has become an Earth Day tradition for PEC. April 20th, 2018 marked the third consecutive year PEC has coordinated volunteer tree planting events on former mine lands within Pennsylvania’s State Forests with help from partners at the local, state, and federal levels.

More than two centuries of coal mining in Pennsylvania has scarred hundreds of thousands of acres of previously mined land. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these scarred landscapes have been reforested. Though many legacy mines were previously reclaimed, post-mining practices intended to stabilize the surface and prevent erosion often resulted in heavy grass cover and compacted mine soils.

Today, these lands are in a state of arrested succession, meaning that current conditions hinder the establishment of native forest trees. For these lands to become productive forests and support diverse plant and wildlife, intervention is needed.

To remediate these conditions, PEC’s project partners at Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) provide technical guidance. ARRI advocates using the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) to reclaim coal mined lands. To this end, project sites are mechanically “ripped” to a depth of 4 feet on an 8×8 ft grid, allowing rainfall to infiltrate and be absorbed by trees’ roots, and making it possible for young seedlings to 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. The goal of PEC’s Reforestation Program is to restore forest habitat on disturbed mine land sites and thereby enhance water quality in the Susquehanna River watershed.

As land managers, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry prescribes the tree species and provides seedlings, grown at the Mira Lloyd Dock Resource Conservation Center. Most often, early succession species for wildlife and soil stability with a mix of commercially valuable crop trees are selected for the planting sites

This year in Weiser and Pinchot State Forest a total of 7,200 seedlings, including Pitch Pine, Scrub Oak, Bigtooth Aspen, Staghorn Sumac, Common Elderberry, Silky Dogwood, Black Locust, Quaking Aspen, Virginia Pine and White Pine, were planted on 7 acres by nearly 150 local volunteers. Two hundred Restoration 1.0 American Chestnut were generously donated by the American Chestnut Foundation.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council was the first recipient of The Pennsylvania Forestry Association’s Henry Wessel Grant, a memorial fund established to aid with the planning and completion of seedling planting projects on State Forest Land.

Support from the grant enabled PEC to purchase comforts for volunteers, including bus transportation to the project site, lunch, and restroom facility rentals. Additionally, tree planting bars were purchased to begin building a tool inventory for the continuation of PEC’s reforestation program. Whenever possible, PEC contracts local vendors and purchases supplies from the area’s small businesses to benefit the local economies.

The remaining funding from the Henry Wessel memorial fund will be used to underwrite a portion of the costs associated with a volunteer tree planting event, coordinated by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, in Moshannon State Forest next spring.