A new strategy to regrow a forest on abandoned mineland: Start by tearing up the earth

By Andy Kubis
The relatively new technique counters what had been traditional practice. But, one forester said, “It’s more natural — the way it was supposed to be, the way it was before mining.”

Deep in the Moshannon State Forest in Elk County, there’s a sloped, barren patch of land surrounded by an otherwise healthy forest. It looks as if a tornado has torn through here — the earth has been churned up, with tangled roots and jumbled rocks.

In the late 1800s, this area was deep-mined. Later, it was strip-mined. When the coal companies left in the mid-1990s, the land was abandoned. Then about twelve years ago, the site was reclaimed. Trees were planted, but didn’t take, as often happens on reclaimed minelands.

“The technology back then was to just re-contour the land,” explains John Hecker, a forester for the state who manages this track of land. “But the bulldozers, as they ran over the land, they compacted the soil. Trees don’t do very well on compacted soil. This site is a good example of that.”

What few trees are here are extremely stunted and thin. But now this — and hundreds of acres of formerly mined land in Pennsylvania — are getting an ecological do-over. ‘Reclamation 2.0,’ you could call it.

That’s why the ground is ripped apart. A jumbo-sized bulldozer with a 3-foot blade came through here earlier in the year and criss crossed the area with deep furrows. As the dozer went through, it blended the materials together to make what looks like very healthy soil: a lot of shale, pre-mined and native soils and sandstone.

“Now the tree roots [can] grow down into that loose soil where it’s moist,” Hecker said. “Those trees will really grow well.”

This aggressive form of bulldozing is a relatively new technique; it’s only been used for the last 10 years or so. It’s called the Forestry Reclamation Approach.

Source: A new strategy to regrow a forest on abandoned mineland: Start by tearing up the earth – StateImpact Pennsylvania, 2019-06-07