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Reclaiming Appalachia

((Banner: Forests from Mines))
Steve Baragona))

((Adapted by: Martin Secrest))
Elkins, West Virginia))

((Banner: Appalachia has lost 90% of its native red spruce forests. But reforestation presents challenges.))

((Chris Barton, University of Kentucky))
So, my name is Chris Barton. I’m a Professor of Forest Hydrology and Watershed Management at the University of Kentucky. Most of the areas that were mined in this region were forests prior to the mining. If you went out and planted trees on these sites, they just didn’t grow. The original topsoil that was here is usually buried, you know, tens to hundreds of feet deep. And the material that ends up becoming the topsoil is blasted-up rock. And so, the amount of organic matter or organic carbon in these soils is very, very limited, basically none. The ground was way too, you know, compacted. Water didn’t infiltrate. Roots can’t penetrate. Oxygen can’t circulate in those environments, and one of the things that we recognized was if we could get rid of the compaction, then that was probably the biggest attribute to getting the forest back.

((Chris Barton, University of Kentucky))
So, when we come in and we rip this up, we’re allowing not only those roots to get down deep, but they’re going to die, they’re going to turn over, and you start building up the carbon in these soils.
((Shane Jones, U.S. Forest Service))

From a big picture perspective, when you have red spruce growing in the over story, there are several things that happen. One, that canopy of that conifer tree, you have that canopy year-round. It keeps the temperatures down. It keeps it more cool and moist in the microclimate. And then also when red spruce is in the over story, there’s a complete different process going on with soil development, where the red spruce forest encourages development of a really deep organic horizon in the soil profile. That’s basically black dirt. It looks like potting soil, incredibly high in carbon, incredibly high in water retention, and you can go and look and see that organic horizon or that black soil that’s high in carbon, and you can pick it up and wring it out and actually see the water drain out of it.

((Courtesy: University of Kentucky))
((Chris Barton, University of Kentucky))

Here, in the temperate region of the world, in Appalachia, four hours away from Washington, DC, we have billions of trees that potentially we could be planting. So, here’s a great way for an individual to come out and actively do something about climate change. Not give money, not protest, but actively come out and do something to participate in improving the planet.