Reclamation and Restoration

people planting trees in a open grassy field
A tree planting project helps to restore an area impacted by surface mining. Flight 93 National Memorial, Pennsylvania.

NPS photo.

abandoned road
Virtually all mineral activities require access roads that may cause erosion and visual scars. Abandoned road prior to restoration, Redwood National Park, California.

NPS photo

Scars on the land may last thousands of years even if mined areas stabilize and the vegetation recovers. Carefully planned reclamation can restore natural processes and greatly speed site recovery. Reclamation in the National Park System focuses on reestablishing landscapes and environments that mimic the surrounding undisturbed lands. Mine structures such as mills, shops, headframes, and others of historic value are stabilized and preserved. Otherwise, the pre-mine condition is restored wherever possible. Reshaping the surface stabilizes slopes and drainages, waste rock piles, tailings ponds, highwalls, and access roads. This reshaping often requires the use of heavy equipment to contour the land to look and function like the surrounding undisturbed lands. The restoration of stream channels also provides for the reintroduction of plants and animals that were lost because of mining. The same type of earthmovers that created the mineral extraction scars are often the best suited to remove them.
tractor restoring slope
Road corridors are restored to original contours, which stabilizes the slope and reestablishes the natural drainage pattern, Redwood National Park, California.

NPS photo

Appropriate cleanup or treatment of hazardous waste prevents further impacts to natural and cultural resources. Small quantities of mining related materials, such as chemicals or fuels used in mining and milling, are completely removed. Large quantities of naturally occurring materials such as acid-generating waste rock may be treated on-site. Applications of lime may provide a buffer to prevent the generation of acids. In more severe cases, limestone drains or artificial wetlands filter heavy metals and reduce acidity. In worst-case scenarios, active water treatment systems may be necessary.

The goals for revegetation of mine sites in the National Park System are the restoration of native plant populations and patterns. The first consideration is the suitability of the soil for revegetation. In harsh conditions, topsoils, compost, or specific nutrients can be added. Specialized nurseries may be needed to propagate suitable plant materials. Sometimes, revegetation work is focused on establishing pioneering species to allow for natural succession. Time and nature then restore the natural productivity in the site.

Last updated: December 3, 2021


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