Warren Wilson College News

Hope for Appalachia: Reclaiming mountaintop removal sites

Patrick N. Angel, a senior forester and soil scientist for the Office of Surface Mining, gave a presentation in Jensen Lecture Hall about the American Chestnut and attempts to reintroduce the ecologically extinct tree into post-strip mine locations.

“Mother Nature has a hard time reclaiming these mountaintop removal (MTR) sites,” Angel said.

He is working to reintroduce valuable hardwoods and compatible grasses to help create biodiversity.

How does he plan to do this?

In 1977, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was passed, and more regulations were enforced to ensure reclamation of MTR sites.

“In an effort to achieve stability and prevent landslides, spoils (or overburden) were repeatedly graded which created a highly compacted surface,” Angel said.

After the valleys and hollows that were filled with spoil were repeatedly graded, they found that it inhibited root penetration, allowing only certain types of fescue to thrive in these areas. Angels says they are no longer packing spoils, but rather letting them sit loosely in the same manner they were dumped. This, according to Angel, will allow for deeper root penetration and decreased runoff. It is the hope of Angel and his colleagues to reintroduce and sustain the American Chestnut, free of blight.

Story and photography by Lyn May ’17

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