Costs of Reclamation on Southern Appalachian Coal Mines: A cost-effectiveness analysis for reforestation versus hayland/pasture reclamation

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Virginia Tech

The two most common options for post-mining land uses in the southern Appalachians are forestry or hayland/pasture. Hayland/pasture has become the predominant reclamation type due to ease of establishment and strict regulation standards requiring quick and dense erosion control by herbaceous cover. Recently, more landowners have become interested in returning mined land to an economically valuable post-mining land use, such as forestry. Landowners are becoming more aware of the possible future profits from timber stand harvests, as well as other benefits (monetary and aesthetic) derived from a forestry post-mining land use. Although hayland/pasture lands can provide economic returns through forage and grazing rents, many post-mining pasture lands are left fallow, with no economic returns being gained. Current research has provided the biological and technical information needed to reclaim mine lands to productive forest stands and achieve bond release. Cost information though has been lacking, or variable at best. The purpose of this study is to understand the processes of reclamation for both forestry and hayland/pasture, and calculate detailed cost estimates for both reclamation types.

Total costs of reclamation are determined using a cost engineering method, in conjunction with Office of Surface Mining Regulation and Enforcement bond calculation worksheets. In Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, hayland/pasture reclamation is more costly on a per acre basis. The cost of hayland/pasture reclamation is greater than the cost of forestry reclamation by $140 per acre to $350 per acre. In Ohio, forestry reclamation is more expensive by nearly $60 per acre. Grading costs are four times as costly for hayland/pasture reclamation, as compared to forestry reclamation. Pasture reclamation requires more grading passes to prepare the seedbed, requiring four passes. Forestry reclamation typically involves only grading the site with one dozer pass to prevent compaction of minesoils which inhibits tree growth.

Hyrdoseeding costs are also higher for hayland/pasture reclamation due to higher application rates of fertilizer and herbaceous seed. The hydroseeding costs make up the largest percentage of the total per acre cost for both forestry and hayland/pasture reclamation. Lime and mulch costs are equal for both reclamation types and are included in the hydroseeding equation. Due to the increased grading costs and higher hydroseeding costs, hayland/pasture reclamation is more expensive for all states analyzed in the Appalachians, other than Ohio. These cost estimates can provide useful tools for mine operators and landowners to determine the most economical and suitable post-mining land use for their individual property.

opportunity costs, net present value, reforestation, reclamation