PANEL: Ecosystem Restoration and Recovery in the Appalachians

The Appalachian region is home to some of the world’s most biodiverse temperate forests (Yahner, 2000) and stewards the freshwater resources of the eastern US. Anthropogenic disturbances have degraded countless acres of forests and impaired thousands of miles of streams (Bernhardt and Palmer, 2011), especially through activities such as coal mining. 

 

Surface mining for coal, including the particularly destructive technique known as mountaintop removal mining, clears forests and native soils and blasts through layers of rock to access the coal resource. Reclaimed surface mines in Appalachia are rarely similar to their pre-mining conditions (Zipper et al. 2011). Underground coal mining, while not as visibly devastating on the landscape, can cause significant degradation of water quality, especially through acid mine drainage (Herlihy et al. 1990). These degraded systems perpetuate the effects of coal mining long after “reclamation” is legally completed, frequently with devastating impacts to plant and animal communities. 

 

Ecological degradation affects human communities as well: impairment of freshwater resources can increase the cost of drinking water treatment, and loss of soil and native plant communities can degrade land value. These costs are especially problematic in economically depressed areas, such as the Appalachian region (Morrone et al. 2011). 

 

However, ecological restoration affords an opportunity to assist these systems in recovery. Intentional restorative practices can mitigate some sources of degradation and improve environmental quality such that native communities can begin to recover. This panel will showcase some of the remarkable ecological restoration work ongoing in the Appalachian region, with particular focus on work to restore ecosystems impacted by coal mining. 

 

References: 

Bernhardt, E. S., & Palmer, M. A. (2011). The environmental costs of mountaintop mining valley fill operations for aquatic ecosystems of the Central Appalachians. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1223:39-57.

Herlihy, A. T., Kaufmann, P. R., Mitch, M. E., & Brown, D. D. (1990). Regional estimates of acid mine drainage impact on streams in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 50:91-107.

Morrone, M., Buckley, G. L., Davis, D. E., & Purdy, J. (2011). Mountains of injustice: Social and environmental justice in Appalachia. Ohio University Press.

Yahner, R. H. 2000. Eastern Deciduous Forest: Ecology and Wildlife Conservation. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Zipper, C. E., Burger, J. A., McGrath, J. M., Rodrigue, J. A., & Holtzman, G. I. (2011). Forest restoration potentials of coal-mined lands in the eastern United States. Journal of Environmental Quality, 40:1567-1577.

 

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