Appalachian Surface Mine Reforestation Techniques: Effects of Grading, Cultural Treatments and Species Selection
Fields-Johnson, Christopher Warren
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Surface mining for coal in the Appalachian region has removed over 0.6 million Ha of mixed mesophytic forest. Successful reforestation would be beneficial, but questions remain concerning application of reclamation and reforestation methods on operational scales. Four experiments were performed testing these methods on newly reclaimed and previously reclaimed, but unused, former mines. On newly reclaimed sites, loose grading during reclamation reduced erosion and increased plant community diversity compared to smooth grading. Seeding only annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) for erosion control, along with tree planting, increased plant community diversity and improved survival and growth of hybrid American chestnut (Castanea dentata x Castanea mollissima), compared to conventional seeding. Surface water infiltration was positively correlated with herbaceous ground cover. On older mines, subsoil ripping to alleviate compaction improved tree survival and growth, in some cases, after five growing seasons. Of the three species groups planted, including Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), mixed native hardwoods had the best survival and hybrid poplar (Populus deltoides x Populus trichocarpa) produced the most biomass. Hybrid American chestnuts survived and grew better when planted as bare-root seedlings than when planted as ungerminated nuts in tree tubes, demonstrating the potential for planting bare-root chestnut seedlings along with other species when reforesting reclaimed surface mines. This can aid in restoring American chestnut, functionally extinct since the blight (Cryphonectria parasitica), to its former range. These cultural practices can be employed to accelerate reforestation of mined lands, but many questions remain about their capability to fully restore ecosystem structure and processes.
- Masters Theses