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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Ecosystem Restoration

Forest Restoration Potentials of Coal-Mined Lands in the Eastern United States


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 40 No. 5, p. 1567-1577
    Received: Feb 8, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): czip@vt.edu
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  1. C. E. Zipper *a,
  2. J. A. Burgerb,
  3. J. M. McGrathc,
  4. J. A. Rodrigued and
  5. G. I. Holtzmane
  1. a Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., Blacksburg VA 24061
    b (retired), Forestry and Soil Science, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., Blacksburg VA 24061
    c Environmental Science and Technology, Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742
    d USDA Forest Service, Asheville, NC 28801
    e Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., Blacksburg VA 24061. Assigned to Associate Editor Douglas Smith


The Appalachian region in the eastern United Sates is home to the Earth's most extensive temperate deciduous forests, but coal mining has caused forest loss and fragmentation. More than 6000 km2 in Appalachia have been mined for coal since 1980 under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). We assessed Appalachian areas mined under SMCRA for forest restoration potentials. Our objectives were to characterize soils and vegetation, to compare soil properties with those of pre-SMCRA mined lands that were reforested successfully, and to determine the effects of site age on measured properties. Soils were sampled and dominant vegetation characterized at up to 10 points on each of 25 post-SMCRA mines. Herbaceous species were dominant on 56%, native trees on 24%, and invasive exotics on 16% of assessed areas. Mean values for soil pH (5.8), electrical conductivity (0.07 dS m−1), base saturation (89%), and coarse fragment content (50% by mass) were not significantly different from measured levels on the pre-SMCRA forested sites, but silt+clay soil fraction (61%) was higher, bicarbonate-extractable P (4 mg kg−1) was lower, and bulk density (1.20 g cm−1) was more variable and often unfavorable. Pedogenic N and bicarbonate-extractable P in surface soils increased with site age and with the presence of weathered rocks among coarse fragments. Our results indicate a potential for many of these soils to support productive forest vegetation if replanted and if cultural practices, including temporary control of existing vegetation, soil density mitigation, and fertilization, are applied to mitigate limitations and aid forest tree reestablishment and growth.

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Copyright © 2011. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.