by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 25, 2013.)
words come to mind when you think of coal mining? Probably not “good wildlife
habitat” – not unless you’ve seen what I’ve seen.
week I was invited on a combination turkey hunt and “energy tour” in the
southwestern corner of the state. (Yes, I scored on my #2 gobbler of the
season, with daggers for spurs, but that’s a story for another day.)
tend to think of malls and parking lots
as some of the chief destroyers of
but it hasn’t always been that way.
small group hunted and toured for three days, and one of the places we visited
was a site where long-wall mining caused the ground to sag about 4½ feet after
the mining was finished. It’s called “subsidence,” and you’d think it was an
ecological disaster. But through cooperation between the Pennsylvania Game
Commission and CONSOL Energy, facilitated by the National Wild Turkey
Federation, a big pile of rotten lemons were turned into refreshing lemonade
for many wildlife species.
tend to think of malls and parking lots as some of the chief destroyers of
habitat, but it hasn’t always been that way. For decades, most people thought
swamps were wasteland, and draining them was good. In fact, the federal
government actually paid farmers to drain wetlands to put more land into
production. Even our government failed to see the value of wetlands as wildlife
habitat. Consequently, we don’t have the wetlands we once had, and it’s the
most needed type of wildlife habitat in Pennsylvania.
acreage is at an all-time low, and many wildlife species are desperate for
wetlands. Doug Dunkerley, Southwest Regional Land Manager for the Game
Commission, says, “Of the 36 threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania,
71% of them require wetlands at some time during their lifecycles.” Without
wetlands, they become extinct.
|One stretch of mine subsidence. In 2010 it was
sunken ground. Today it’s valuable wetland.|
do you reclaim wetlands? Most of the time you don’t, and the cost can be
astronomical – up to $100,000 per acre. But mine subsidence is an opportunity
to make new wetlands, which is what CONSOL Energy is doing in cooperation with
the Game Commission.
the past when long-wall mines subsided, outdated science said to fill in the holes,
compact the ground, grade it, throw down some topsoil, and plant fescue, white
pine and locust to mitigate erosion. It amounted to putting cosmetics on dead
land. It would be green, but it wouldn’t be wildlife habitat.
role of the National Wild Turkey Federation in this is primarily to be a
facilitator. Jay Jordan, NWTF's Energy for Wildlife coordinator, says. “What
many people consider damage to the landscape is better thought of as impact,
and impact can be good.”
the guidance of the proper consultants in biology, geology and hydrology, the
coal company financed the project and turned the land over to the Game
Commission in 2011. It has been transformed into wetlands, and already teeming
with wildlife. “Everybody wins,” says Dunkerley. “Countless wildlife species
benefit, not just game species. You'll see more wildlife here than you will
most places – ducks, geese, bats, swallows, tadpoles, aquatic insects, and a
this particular site in Greene County, the Game Commission received 212 acres
from CONSOL in a trade for 55 acres elsewhere. All totaled, CONSOL has donated
or traded properties to add roughly 44,000 acres to the wildlife habitat managed
by the Game Commission.
mining be good for wildlife habitat? You bet it can.