Mine Reclamation Practices to Enhance Forest Development Through Natural Succession
Succession is a term used to describe natural changes in plant community composition over time. In the forested Appalachian region, disturbances from storms, fire, logging, or mining can disrupt or destroy established forests. Natural processes that lead to restoration of the forest vegetation after such a disturbance usually begin quickly and result in development of another forest. On former mine sites, the quality of that forest and the speed with which it develops depend upon the conditions created by the mining and reclamation process. Conventional surface mine reclamation as practiced from the late 1970’s to the present commonly featured smooth grading of topsoil or topsoil substitute material followed by establishment of grasses and legumes that grow rapidly to form a thick groundcover. These compacted mine soils and competitive grasses hinder tree establishment and growth and delay the process of succession to forest cover. In contrast, reclamation practices known as the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) are intended to encourage succession in a manner that helps the mine operator satisfy regulatory requirements cost effectively and achieve prompt bond release (See Box 1). This advisory describes the ways in which reclamation methods can encourage rapid succession and accelerate development of high quality postmining forests.