The Appalachian region of the US has suffered from the negative effects of the coal industry. It has destroyed around 400,000 hectares carbon-capturing forest, disrupting local ecosystems. It also destroyed whole communities as mining jobs disappeared abruptly due to dwindling coal reserves making mines unprofitable. Green Forests Work is an environmentally-friendly company that aims to restore the Appalachian region through massive, earth-moving tree planting projects.
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Green Forests Work works in partnership with many other partners as well the federal U.S. Forest Service. They are restoring forests to the famous Appalachian Hills, including a 1000-hectare tract of Monongahela Forest that was stripped-mined during the 1980s.
Converting coal mines to carbon sinks
Green Forests Work is a multi-faceted approach to repairing the damage done by coal mining.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels such as coal for energy have dramatically increased The rate of global warming since the Industrial Revolution started in Britain in the 18th century.
Now, with climate crises on the horizon and the consensus of environmental scientists warning that huge changes in our economy and society are required to avoid the worst-case scenario outcomes of climate change – drought, extreme weather events such as floods and hurricanes, water shortages, and mass extinctions.
Simply reducing the amount CO2The amount of carbon we produce from burning fossil fuels is not sufficient, but it is necessary.
Scientists are now urging world leaders for increased carbon capture and storage. Carbon capture – taking CO2 out of the atmosphere or water – can be achieved with expensive and complex technology. Carbon sequestration – storing CO2 in a stable form so that it will not re-enter the atmosphere for up to 1000 years – can also now be achieved with industrial machinery.
But there is an even simpler – and much more effective – means of taking CO2Keep it out of the atmosphere. It doesn’t require complex machinery or tools and is well-established and well-understood. It is known as photosynthesis.
Rewilding is the process by which humans remove any impediments to natural ecosystem growth in places that are uninhabitable for their animal and plant neighbors.
Green Forests Work is undertaking large-scale rewilding projects in the Appalachian hills to restore natural carbon sinks – large forests – to the area. The company has planted nearly 4 million trees on over 6,000 acres of the region since 2009.
Rewilding with the Bulldozer: Ripping Up The Earth
The Appalachian region saw the closure of strip mines. Coal stocks had become too low to allow mines to continue to be profitable in the 1990s. It was best to restore these mines using closely packed rock and shallow-rooting turf at the time.
This ensured that the upheaved earth over the mines and mountain tops would stay in place, preventing erosion to maintain the hills’ structural integrity. These environments are not suitable for grass with shallow roots. Water cannot penetrate the tightly packed rock and roots cannot penetrate the rock. Oxygen cannot circulate in the stifled atmosphere, which makes it impossible for plants to grow.
Green Forests Work has a unique approach to this issue. The company employs heavy-duty machinery to break up the ground and create deep grooves in the earth below so that trees can grow in them.
Monongahela’s pilot trial covering 30 hectares began in 2011. Bulldozer-like machines were sent there to excavate the ground from a former strip mine. For years, local forest rangers had failed to plant trees on the site. Ten years later, the trees on the site are still flourishing.
Restoring Ecosystems and Economies
The method developed by Green Forests Work costs approximately $5,000 per hectare to commit the machine- and human-power needed to restore forests to Appalachia’s former strip mines.
This work not only produces environmental benefits but also revitalizes the local economy that was devastated by the massed mining of coal-field states in the 1990s.
Green Forests Work provides funding and investment to the area for heavy equipment suppliers and operators, local seed collectors, local nurseries and the local service sector. The Monongahela Project alone has brought in approximately $1,000,000 to the local economy.
Carbon Capture through Forests
Tree planting and forest managing are some of the most cost-effective and scalable strategies available for carbon capture. Properly maintained and restored forests could capture and store a third of the greenhouse gas reductions required to avoid the worst climate disasters.
It was not until recently that we understood the role of forests in natural climate solutions. Recent research has shown that natural climate options can absorb 23.8 petagrams CO.2More than 30% more than the previous estimates.
These solutions can provide 37% CO2 mitigation to 2030 that scientists say would provide a 66% or higher chance of keeping global warming below 2 °C. Scientists estimate that about a third could be sourced from relatively low-cost projects, for as low as $10 per Mg. CO.2-1.
These types of projects also have other benefits for the environment. Restores forests can provide flood resistance, Walter filtration, improved soil health and biodiversity, as well as enhanced climate resilience.
Refer to References and Additional Reading
Baragona, S. (2018). Former West Virginia Coal Mines Converted into Carbon-sucking ForestsVOA News. Available at: https://www.voanews.com/a/former-west-virginia-coal-mines-turned-into-carbon-sucking-forests/4657161.html.
Griscom, B.W. et. (2017). Natural climate solutions. PNAS. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1710465114.
Popkin, G. (2020). The Green Miles. Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/lifestyle/magazine/appalachia-kentucky-reforestation/?fbclid=IwAR1dRQXX3T_uKyqmh0zd8BtlpaDNuRih-dAT-leA2yE1JqyAd0Wet_M96ss.
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