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UW scientists' findings could improve coal mine cleanup
UW scientists' findings could improve coal mine cleanup
New scientific findings could transform the way Wyoming reclaims, or cleans up, its roughly 90,000 acres of land disturbed by surface mining.
New scientific findings could transform the way Wyoming reclaims, or cleans up, its roughly 90,000 acres of land disturbed by surface mining.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming studied the results of an innovative reclamation technique known as geomorphic reclamation at two mine sites in southwest and central Wyoming. Ultimately, the scientists found the alternative process revived native plant vegetation and supported species diversity more effectively than traditional reclamation methods.

The findings, published by UW professor Kristina Hufford and graduate student Kurt Fleisher, unlock new possibilities for sustainable reclamation in Wyoming, if researchers can find a way to make the practice of geomorphic reclamation economical.

Geomorphic reclamation reconstructs the heterogeneous features of surrounding land to mirror the diverse conditions found before uranium and coal mining commenced. In comparison, Fleisher described more traditional reclamation as an effort to create “one, uniform landform.”

By cultivating a diverse landscape with multiple kinds of terrain and plants, geomorphic reclamation can promote a stronger and more sustainable ecosystem for both plant and animal species, the research found.

“The idea is to create a landform that resembles the native topography of the region,” Fleisher explained. “Because of the heterogeneity in the landscape, you have all these micro-climates that can support greater diversity and vegetation.”

Restoring the abundance of native sagebrush and rabbitbrush at old mine sites could also help preserve the state’s critical wildlife, like sage grouse.

Hufford and Fleisher worked on the grounds of a retired uranium mine site in the Gas Hills of Fremont County and a former coal mine site outside of Rock Springs in Sweetwater County.

Seeds were spread on the soil at each site as part of both traditional and geomorphic reclamation processes over a decade ago. In 2017 and 2018, the researchers investigated the sites to record the progress of the vegetation.

The sites where geomorphic reclamation was applied still did not restore the landscapes to its exact former state. However, “geomorphic reclamation was more likely to resemble undisturbed controls,” the report concluded. “Shrub abundance was up to 10 times greater on geomorphic reclamation compared to traditional reclamation.”
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UW scientists' findings could improve coal mine cleanup
UW scientists' findings could improve coal mine cleanup
New scientific findings could transform the way Wyoming reclaims, or cleans up, its roughly 90,000 acres of land disturbed by surface mining.
New scientific findings could transform the way Wyoming reclaims, or cleans up, its roughly 90,000 acres of land disturbed by surface mining. Researchers at the University of Wyoming studied the results of an innovative reclamation technique known as geomorphic reclamation at two mine sites in southwest and central Wyoming. Ultimately, the scientists found the alternative process revived native plant vegetation and supported species diversity more effectively than traditional reclamation methods. The findings, published by UW professor Kristina Hufford and graduate student Kurt Fleisher, unlock new possibilities for sustainable reclamation in Wyoming, if researchers can find a way to make the practice of geomorphic reclamation economical. Geomorphic reclamation reconstructs the heterogeneous features of surrounding land to mirror the diverse conditions found before uranium and coal mining commenced. In comparison, Fleisher described more traditional reclamation as an effort to create “one, uniform landform.” By cultivating a diverse landscape with multiple kinds of terrain and plants, geomorphic reclamation can promote a stronger and more sustainable ecosystem for both plant and animal species, the research found. “The idea is to create a landform that resembles the native topography of the region,” Fleisher explained. “Because of the heterogeneity in the landscape, you have all these micro-climates that can support greater diversity and vegetation.” Restoring the abundance of native sagebrush and rabbitbrush at old mine sites could also help preserve the state’s critical wildlife, like sage grouse. Hufford and Fleisher worked on the grounds of a retired uranium mine site in the Gas Hills of Fremont County and a former coal mine site outside of Rock Springs in Sweetwater County. Seeds were spread on the soil at each site as part of both traditional and geomorphic reclamation processes over a decade ago. In 2017 and 2018, the researchers investigated the sites to record the progress of the vegetation. The sites where geomorphic reclamation was applied still did not restore the landscapes to its exact former state. However, “geomorphic reclamation was more likely to resemble undisturbed controls,” the report concluded. “Shrub abundance was up to 10 times greater on geomorphic reclamation compared to traditional reclamation.”



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