Biology faculty member Christine Small, geospatial science faculty member Rick Roth and Appalachian studies faculty member Theresa Burriss took students from the Forest and Wetland Ecology (BIOL 475) course to visit several research sites in eastern Kentucky to introduce students to the cultural, environmental and ecological aspects of mountain-top removal coal mining.
The faculty's goal was to explain and let the students experience the "Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative" (ARRI), the collaborative effort by researchers, government regulatory agencies, local communities and mining companies to restore forests on the more than one million acres of former mined land in the Appalachian coal field region.
According to Small, much of this land was left in an unproductive and unusable state following mining. The ARRI follows current resarch findings for reclaiming and restoring Appalachian hardwood forests on these sites. "Restoration studies suggest that this work can 'reclaim' these lands, so that htye are once again economically productive through sustainable timber harvesting, ecologically productive with healthy wildlife habitat, forest diversity, and watershed and stream health, and safe for local communities' drinking water and soil stability," says Small.
During the field trip, the class met with Dr. Patrick Angel from teh U.S. Office of Surface Mining for a tour of the University of Kentucky's Reforestation Research complex at Ben Mountain mine site in Pike County, Ky. According to Small, this site is a premiere research site and public showcase for forestry reclamation techniques. And Paul Rothman from the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources took the class on a tour of the Big Elk Starfire mine research site in Perry County, Ky., to learn about American chestnut restoration on mine spoils, soil and growth medium experiments and water chemistry research.
Prior to the field trip, the class received guest lectures and class discussions with Burriss and Roth on Appalachian cultural issues and environmental regulatory issues associated with mountain-top removal coal mining. Small led the class in discussions of current research and efforts to restore forests on former mined lands.