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Terraforming Mountaintop Removal Coal Mines?  RSS feed

 
Renate Howard
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I saw a film about mountaintop removal coal mines, where they remove vegetation, scrape off the topsoil, extract the coal, then leave and the mountaintops stay a barren wasteland that then allows rain to flood what used to be small streams, inundating the farms below (and carrying toxic mine waste like arsenic and mercury). I hear they are supposed to hire companies to restore the area but so far they're having trouble finding plants to grow there. It sounds like an excellent opportunity for permies and whenever I read about re-greening the desert I wonder how well it would work on the poor abandoned mountaintops here.

Here is one of many websites that explain the problem: http://www.mountainjusticesummer.org/facts/steps.php

It's an especially pertinent problem to me because I live on the banks of the Kentucky River, where you can't swim or eat the fish because of the toxins in the water from the mountaintop removal mines upstream.

 
nathan luedtke
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Here's a beautiful (long) story about a man who does just that. It's a little light on implementation details but it's a great model to look at- an American version of "the man who planted trees"

The Man Who Created Paradise by Gene Logsdon
 
Alder Burns
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Seems to me a little observation would quickly come up with a list of powerful contenders for remediating such degraded lands.....precisely those plants considered invasive and aggressive, whether native or exotic. Most of them are found and are spreading from urban and suburban areas outward, and simply have not found their way to more remote areas where mining is going on. Although it's a subject of often heated debate as to whether such things should be deliberately propagated, they may be the only plants that can pioneer such sites. Most of them are early-succession species and other more useful or native species can be introduced under them later.
One tradition about Ailanthus is that it can grow in straight coal ash. Ailanthus, Paulownia, mimosa (Albizzia), and black locust come first to mind for the mine spoils in the Northeast.....further south some other species might come into play. Mimosa and locust are nitrogen-fixers, and black locust is actually a native to much of the area. All of them are profligate producers of seed, so propagation material should be easy to source. Some quick tough cover crops could be thrown into the mix also.
 
Alder Burns
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Thinking a bit deeper, it is in the remediation of degraded lands that permaculture really has a chance to shine, and young ambitious people looking for land should consider taking on the challenge of settling on such sites, rather than looking for the "ideal homestead". Mollison himself recommends staying away from what he called "the bush"....i.e. anything resembling true wilderness, which is doing fine without human intervention, and of which there is less and less in the world as time goes on. But "brownfields" of various sorts proliferate. I wonder what the ownership protocols are for such sites? Perhaps a modern version of a "homestead act" should be passed, allowing homesteaders legal title to parcels of such land for free, provided they settle on it and improve it......
 
Renate Howard
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Maybe when Paul gets tired of his new place and wants a challenge he can take on an ex-mountaintop and get the tremendous volunteer resources he has to put their effort toward reclaiming the land there. Wouldn't that be a boon for permaculture to let the world see what it can accomplish!
 
Joseph Fields
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I have seen some breath taking places in Breathitt and other ky areas on reclaimed coal sites. Paul talks a lot about most places not having enough texture. Can not the opposite be true? All that being said, I believe the hard to develop ridge lines insulate my region from the effects of deforestation. It's kind of like ally cropping on a massive scale. Some of the nicest housing areas I have seen are on old strip jobs, in areas where flooding is a threat and flat building areas in short supply at least strip jobs and mt top removal can have some use. I have often thought about buying such a property, however companies are holding mining deeds for the day when the cost to profitt will lead to further mining in the area locking up the land. The ridge across from my house was contoured mined. Meaning the got the easy coal and left the rest.
 
Renate Howard
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The Gene Logsdon piece is fiction, it says at the end.

The fact that they retain the mineral rights is certainly a big problem - who wants to own land with coal in it and not own the mineral rights?

Strip mines are a whole different kind of thing than the modern mountaintop removal mines. The mountaintop removal mines are huge, taking up hundreds of acres per site and much more destructive than strip mines. I used to live by a strip mine that was bought by a fellow who farmed fish on it. Nothing much ever grew on the shale sides, which were steep, but other than that it was an ok place- easy to hike around on with so little stuff in the way and the nice gravel roads along both sides. The main problem with those was people would dump barrels of chemicals in the mines - they were deep and filled with water so what went in was well hidden, and the leftover roads made it easy to get to. We had a bad drought one year and I saw lots of barrels with the skull and crossbones on them down there, along with various cars and other interesting stuff.

The mountaintop removal mines, at least in the photos, are already terraced, which is intriguing.
 
Greta Fields
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Hi Renate, Joseph. I am down in southeastern Kentucky.
Did you know there is big money in mine rehabilitation? Not that I care about it, but anything to get somebody to come here and help us fix the mountains!!!
There is a guy got a six-figure grant to rehabilitate a stripmined area in Virginia with native grasses. He is a real famous ex-hippie from the 1970s -- John Todd. I think that is his name. He used to experiment when nobody else was experimenting. I sent him an e-mail suggesting he try to create bison habitat, since we had bison here once.
Renate, App0alachian Reforestation Initiative just planted more trees over near Fishtrap Dam, I read. They camp at a church in Pikeville and drive out to a mine and plant American Chestnut hybrids or something. I wanted to do that this year, but I forgot, and they had it without me.
Mountain Justice Summer is my last hope for Black Mountain, which they are removing. The most precious mountain in America, to my mind!!! I remember standing UNDER FERNS on top of Black Mt. when I was ten years old. I recall seeing wild primroses or something like colorful pansies up there, plus Flame Azaleas. It was not like any other ecological system I ever saw anywhere, including the Smokies. It was unreal. I know where this place is, but won't tell anybody. The mines are further north of this place, but no telling what they destroyed there.
I could cry when I see Black Mountain being mined. This is insane.
I bought a piece of another mountain.
greta
 
Joseph Fields
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That's pretty cool Greta, I did not know there was anything even close to permie related going on with any mines. I have a book on american chestnut restoration that references a university of ky study, states that the absolute best media to grow american chestnut seedlings is amazingly enough coal mine slag.
 
Renate Howard
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Some of the programs to bring back the American Chestnuts are actually using genetic modification instead of just hybridizing. See http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/32743/title/American-Chestnut-to-Rise-Again/
 
Greta Fields
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Hi,
Renate, Joe and Alder-in-Calif.
I did not know about the GM trees, Renate. The local Extension Agent, Shad Baker, is growing a row of hybrid Chestnuts up at the Letcher County Extension office, and they are "ugly" compared to the original trees. I have a photo of a 100% pure tree, which I doubt I can attach here, but will try in a minute.
I tried to save the pure tree [which an expert said was pure][ with mud packs, but it did not work.
Later, it occurred to me that we could save Chestnuts by spraying the sores with walnut oil, which is known to kill fungus, and supposedly bowel cancer.
I also found a strange looking chestnut here, and an expert said it
Alder, Pawlonia is considered invasive here, but if it grows on a stripmine, I'd put it there.
The pure trees have thin, translucent leaves with are soft, whereas Shad's trees have opaque, leathery leaves.
Alder, if I lived in California, I would adopt a clearcut and try to grow redwoods.
I just planted 2 persimmons and 2 shellbark hickory. Did you know you can order Kentucky trees cheap0 from the state Forestry Dept. arbor in West Liberty, Ky? I think I will order about 60 Shellbarks. You have to plant a lot of trees to get a few. I already have planted arbors of Butternut and hazelnut. The State grew a crop of nuts from my mother tree, I was told. I donated them through a botanist.
What are you all doing?
 
Greta Fields
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I am trying to post a photo of a tree that was identified by experts as 100% pure American Chestnut.
They get this big fairly often, but they contract the blight as soon as bark forms. The next time I find one, I will put walnut oil on the blight.
Filename: Untitled-6.tif
File size: 6 megabytes
 
Alder Burns
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@ Greta.....The redwood forests are across the mountains from me.....a long day's drive. From what I read about them, redwood comes up readily and quickly in clearcuts, whether from planting or from seeding. In their natural habitat the new trees grow quickly. The problem is that the old growth is the most valuable....
 
Greta Fields
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A botanist brought redwoods to start here, but I don't know if he did. The poplar trees got 20 feet in diameter here once. I have photos of one that is 17 feet in diameter.
Now, they get 3-4 feet wide and topple over often. They are succession trees, I think. I want to grow a giant poplar, but I am afraid it will die due to gradual poisoning from acid rain. I may spread gravel dust around the base to offset acid.
they say locust has to have a certain elevation to grow. I have a Mimosa tree here. Most people don't like them, but hummingbirds do.
Yeah, I wish Paul or some other permaculture group would take on a stripmine. I saw a 12 acre stripmine for sale for $2500 once. It was 100% grey slate rubbish. I already had too much land to take care of, but it was a Challenge. I pictured myself carrying in rotten logs, woodchips, sawdust etc. and humanure, and making that slate grow something.
I seriously doubt you would need a Homesteading Act to take over some stripmines. My guess is, the County governments have abandoned mines aplenty. University of Tennessee is who's planting the Chestnuts on stripmines. I bet they got a mine through the ex governor, who is from that area.
I wish people would come squat on those mines....literally occupy them.


 
Renate Howard
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Greta,

If you're talking about the same KY program I used, you buy 10 trees for around $20 or 100 for $30. So it would be cheaper to buy 100 and give away 40 than to buy 6 orders of 10 trees. BUT, you can get better, named variety trees from Musser Forests or Burnt Ridge, or you can buy seeds of improved trees (bred for better nut production or better tasting nuts) from places online (I lost my link!). Or you can buy chestnuts and plant them.

When I lived by the stripmine in Arkansas there were a lot of persimmons growing in what looked like pure shale. They may do well, too.

I've got a huge patch of wild pawpaws, if you want to come dig some to plant sometime let me know. I can't say how the fruit is, I think they're not very fruitful unless hand-pollinated, tho they must have borne fruit at some point because it's a really large patch that goes the length of the creek trail. I'm guessing animals ate the pawpaws then dropped the seeds in their droppings as they walked along the trail.
 
Alder Burns
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The problem with just squatting is those people would need food, a subsistence, an income of sorts from somewhere, since that barren land will be able to provide nothing for quite a while, and will take quite a bit of input to jumpstart.....like some heavy machinery time, some sort of dwelling and infrastructure, plant and organic matter imports, and so on. It needs both ambitious people and some funding, unless those people come on site with connections of their own.
 
Greta Fields
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Well, I knew a guy in California who was going to start a village in a clearcut, and Ii don't know what happened to it. People who want to do this will do it. One could live on site and one could send money from the City job or something. If they want to do it, they will. The problem is getting a group to agree on anything.
Thee are thousands of ponds on these stripmines, but they would need to filter the water or buy drinking water. You can see them from the air....toxic greenish blue ponds on moonscapes, sometimes with rye grass.
I can't sponsor anybody coming here.....I have my hands full. I decided to try to preserve one little piece of land. I am trying to get gardeners to come to my place, not tree planters specifically, although we may plant some trees. If I weren't doing this, I probably would fix a stripmine. It would be irresistible to do.
 
Renate Howard
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I was thinking one could put in some deep mulch hogs or chickens (or both?) to begin - you'd already pay for the animals, straw/hay, and feed, and the meat would pay off those costs. Fencing may be a problem, tho, unless you have a jackhammer to sink posts into solid rock. Home could be an old trailer with solar panels and some sort of rainwater catching cistern. Or seasonally a tipi or yurt. Of course, it would be pretty easy to find stones to build with... Maybe stone walls would be the way to fence in paddocks. Once the pigs reach market size you've got all that organic matter they've left behind to mix with the dust and a fair start on the bacteria, etc. that soil needs so that's the beginnings of humus - maybe enough to grow vegetables the following year. Aquaponics, again catching rainwater could be another option. They say plants will grow on the bare dust if you add fertilizer, but since there's no humus or real life left in the dust left behind the growth is short-lived; providing "fertilizer" in the form of fish or animal poo would provide the basis for soil life - bacteria, fungi, etc.

As for the polluted waste water left behind, I think paul stamets has done some pretty good work using fungi to clean nasty water. It can make it inert so it sinks and eventually is buried under the new life that comes up around it. Humic acid, like from rotting leaves, also binds toxic metals, so I think over time as more and more life come to grow the toxic areas would become less so. Even reeds can clean water somewhat.

Several permaculture people have said that humus doesn't come from soil, it comes from air as the plants grab carbon out of the air and make it into the carbon in their tissues, when they die it is added to the soil and is humus. So you can make dirt/good soil out of almost thin air. Mark Shepard, in "Restoration Agriculture" says there was an experiment where they weighed the soil, planted a tree, and years later weighed the tree and the soil left in the pot. The tree had gained many pounds while the soil had lost only a little.

In desert restoration lack of water is the key factor that limits plant growth and once some trees are established by irrigation or watering the soil returns and life returns. In Appalachia water is no problem, they average 3-5 inches a month, every month. I wonder just how long it would take if you did everything right, to get it fertile and lush again.
 
Alder Burns
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Remediating degraded land to quasi-natural forest (or, depending on climate, prairie, desert scrub, etc.) would be relatively easy....simply introduce the "worst" invasive plants adapted to that area and they will do the pioneering for you. Other more long-lived or more productive or more valuable species can be introduced later, and many will probably appear on their own, once a canopy of sorts is in place and a mulch and topsoil layer begins to form. In many climates, with a good mix of pioneers including inoculated nitrogen fixers, this could happen in ten years or less. But to remediate to a level where human food can be reliably produced without toxics being an issue could take a lot longer and need more effort. It might be that the worst sites simply need to be encouraged to return to forest and that forest be used for non-food purposes, such as timber and firewood. Growing plenty of trees goes hand in hand with Stamets' remediation protocols, many of which involve wood chips inoculated with mushrooms mixed with toxic wastes.....
 
Greta Fields
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Pigs get sunburned, according to sepp holzer, so they would burn up on a stripmine without lattice and mud to cool off.
They spray sewage on sripmines, I am pretty sure. It looks green. It makes grass grow on bad ground.
I guess it would depend on the stripmine, what method that you used to reclaim it. Now, the miners are leaving the surface rough, because they found out that trees may grow in non-compacted mine surfaces. However, I have seen illegal mines which were abandoned, and they were pure shale. A person could hardly walk across it....gray rocks.
You could get a truck and haul woodchips, which tree cutters dump on the side of the road. You could also stop and pick up tree limbs on the road shoulder, and pack the mine with a "hugelkulture" of limbs. You could collect bags of leaves from city streets.
Yes, people could figure out shelter and water. You can get large plastic vats to catch rain water.
That is interesting about air. I just read somewhere that AIR is just as important to plants as SUN. guess humus is so important because it is fluffy and keeps air in the soil, as well as water and nutrients.
You can fix surface, looks like, but nobody can fix the caves lost in mountaintop removal. The mountains are hollow water storage vats that run over when they are full. Mountaintop removal destroys the water supply for the eastern U.S.
I am not threatened by coal miners because I live o a limestone mt. Plus, they already stole the coal under the houses. I am trying to save a biodiverse mountain, not a stripmine, but I do fantasize about fixing a mine too. I think humanure would be great on a stripmine too. A truck is the key. People always pile up logs and burn them around here. People make huge landfills full of logs that a person could take to a stripmine. I once covered a rocky road bank 300 feet long with 14 loads of leaves and brush. I have berries growing there now. It made the road 2 feet wider. I will try to attach a photo.
Filename: Untitled-17.tif
File size: 4 megabytes
 
Greta Fields
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The computer jumped and saved my file before I was done. I started to say we get 50 inches of rain now. It's gone up ten inches per year about.
Alden, you would have to see some of these stripmines. Some of them won't grow anything, not even invasive species, without help.
Some of them are just unreal. They look WORSE than those photos of Mars and the moon. You have to see them from a plane. You can't see them from roads. It looks like the Grand Canyon as far as you can see from an airplane. Wise County Va. and Perry County Ky. are both two of the worst
The worst ones are often mines abandoned years ago by miners avoiding reclamation cost.
I COULD give somebody a place to live if they find a mine to work on near here, but I have my hands full at home. You could probably get land to rehab through Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. They have many members whose lands were mined and who are now lobbying against stripmining. I bet some of them would be thrilled to have rehabbers living on the stripmines near their homes. These people would probably even take care of you...some of them have homes surrounded by mines that they could not stop.
 
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