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Reimagine Appalachia held a virtual meeting last week to discuss the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative under the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Surface Mine Recovery and Enforcement Division.

The meeting focused on revitalizing former coal mining sites and how to restore natural landscapes while helping the natural environment while creating jobs and economic opportunities. It was sponsored by Appalachian Voices, Reimagine Appalachia, the National Wildlife Federation and the Appalachian Citizens Law Center.

The event featured speeches by people with direct experience in afforestation.

Brendan Nychen-Bates, a policy attorney for the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, said the Biden administration supports communities reforesting former coal sites.

He said recent federal initiatives are providing more funding for incentive programs „Environmental Justice and Tackling Climate Change.”

„President (Joe) Biden announced the US Climate Task Force in September, part of a growing push to help young Americans jump-start their careers in climate and clean energy” he said. „Working with several federal agencies, including the Department of Labor, the Department of the Interior, the USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps, the U.S. Climate Corps will include a workforce and energy-related career training program.”

Cliff Drouet, ARRI Forester of the Office of Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, said reforesting former coal mines creates economic opportunities for communities affected by the decline of the coal industry.

For many projects, the office uses local bulldozer operators to break up compacted soil at sites, he said.

„It’s farming on steroids.” he said.

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Drouet said the office uses local tree planting groups and local or state nurseries to provide trees and plants native to the area.

For many projects, local students volunteer and plant trees by hand. During projects, workers typically plant about 700 trees per acre, which means they are spaced about 8 feet apart.

Gary Conley, director of forestry for Rural Action, an organization focused on environmental justice in Appalachia, discussed reforestation projects he’s worked on, including the East Fork Duck Creek watershed in Noble County. He said he studied reforestation plans at several sites to help him make informed decisions about how to tackle the project.

Sam Felton, mayor of Marlinton, W.Va., discusses reforestation efforts in his small town.

He spoke about his role as a local elected official and the impact of the outside economy on a small rural town.

Felton discussed the town’s history and how the decline of the forestry industry was slowing the economy. He said he wants to use Marlinton’s natural, outdoor resources to attract tourists to boost the economy.

„There is a correlation between healthy people and healthy outdoors” he said.

Felton said he believes mountain biking will become more popular than skiing in the next few years, which could help stabilize the local economy and create year-round jobs.

He said 16 new businesses have opened in the city since the reforestation project was completed two years ago.

Felton also said he wants to make sure the reforestation program is done properly to ensure the trees are healthy.

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“Trees are like humans. They have a life cycle and if they are not properly forested, this will be the end of those trees. he said.

Joshua Nease, executive director of Mon Forest Towns, an organization that supports towns near the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, said he has worked with several towns to improve outdoor recreation.

He said every city has its own needs and challenges in social amenities, infrastructure, entertainment, business and entrepreneurship development, workforce development and training, tourism, hospitality, amenities, commerce and city planning.

He said the organization works to secure grants from the USDA so that cities of all sizes can get the funding they need to improve their natural resources.

According to a press release from Reimagine Appalachia, „This successful project has worked to reforest and pave former mine sites since 2004. With more than 10,000 acres of mined lands and a science-based approach to reforestation that includes partners from state and federal agencies, nonprofits and academic institutions, ARRI has proven to be a leader in sustainable development across the region. record.”

For information on AARI, visit the Office of Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement website at

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