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East Texas researchers work to optimize forest reclamation techniques on Gulf Coast mining sites

Stephen F. Austin State University

Researchers at Stephen F. Austin State University are working to improve the regrowth of forests on land once used for strip mining. A two-acre plot near Crockett, Texas, will compare various techniques in forestry reclamation that have worked in Appalachia, but are now being tested in the Western Gulf Coast region.

SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture has received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Associate professor of silviculture Jeremy Stovall says the goal is to get forests to grow back on this excavated land more efficiently and robustly than what Mother Nature could do.

“We’re going to study how loblolly pines grow on those sites and how the different reclamation approaches influence hydrology, erosion rates and soil properties like compaction,” Stovall said.

Texas mining and energy firm Luminant has succeeded over the decades growing loblolly pine on reclaimed land, according to Stovall. He says Luminant has reclaimed more than 70,000 acres over the decades. Nationwide, he says, about one million acres are available for restoration from surface mining.

“If you ever been out on some of these reclaimed mines in Texas, you would have no idea you’re on a reclaimed mine. It’s beautiful land. Folks that are working on reclamation really take pride in it and do an excellent job with their work,” Stovall said.

Researchers planted the seedlings in February and they’ll watch their test plot grow over four years to compare different planting techniques. Texas was the country’s sixth largest coal producer in 2013, generating more than 42,000 tons of lignite coal.