Protesters plant trees on mountaintop removal site

October 25, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Anti-mountaintop removal protesters wave as they begin to plant trees at a Kayford Mountain strip mine. Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

The Gazette’s Zac Taylor has the story today about Sunday’s big mountaintop removal protest action, in which activists planted trees on a mine site near Kayford Mountain out in eastern Kanawha County.

Climate Ground Zero reports that there were no arrests, and they explain the reasons for choosing tree-planting as a peaceful protest action:

The standard reclamation practiced by mining companies is inadequate, which involves regrading high walls into gentle, highly-compacted slopes and seeding the rocky soil with grass. Some plant trees but rarely return to tend them–most trees don’t survive long. The extremely diverse mixed mesophytic forests of Central Appalachia, which rely upon folded land that creates lots of micro-climates, cannot regrow on reclaimed surface mines. Native plants like ginseng require the steep north-facing slopes of Appalachia that retain moisture, and will never grow on the gentle slopes of a reclaimed strip mine.

17 Responses to “Protesters plant trees on mountaintop removal site”

  1. 4rester says:

    Interesting that they are planting Hemlock on a dry, barren hilltop, where they are unlikely to survive. Hemlock strongly prefers moist, cool, north-facing slopes or ravines. Unless these trees are regularly watered and tended to, the hemlocks in particular will probably die.

  2. morgan says:

    @4rester: the larger point seems to be the huge divide between what the law says (something about restoring mine sites) and what actually happens (creating barren expanses where hardly anything can grow.)

    I think the action is successful because it blurs the line between symbolism and concrete action. I also think that if they are to expand and improve on this action, choosing species that might actually survive on a mine site will be advantageous. What species of tree do you think they should be planting? And do you think any forest can be regrown on a site in a reasonable amount of time?

  3. Kevin says:

    Ok, just have to point out that the tree in the picture is a poplar not a hemlock. A hemlock is an evergreen and that’s a deciduous tree. However Morgan point is more poignant than mine.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I don’t think anybody identified the tree in the photo as a hemlock. If you read the story that this post linked to, you’ll see a discussion of the various types of trees they planted:

    “About 20 protesters carried hemlock, walnut, red oak, and tulip poplar sprouts. They planted them into a hill on top of the site while the rest of the crowd watched from about a half-mile away on property owned by Larry Gibson, another activist.
    John Johnson, one of the leaders of the demonstration, said he picked tulip poplar because it is the state tree of his native Tennessee.
    He picked hemlock because their roots help keep streams clean, he said.”


  5. PlethoDon Juan says:

    Yes, hemlock is a poor choice. Most reclamation sites that involve replanting of trees I’ve been to involve a mix of nitrogen fixing species such as black locust with various northern hardwood species. Hemlock indeed does help filter soils and control runoff but only near streams in cool, shady coves. I’m kinda surprised at the criteria for what to plant from a bunch of earthy types…I figured they would have known what to plant much better. Not a landscape horticulturalist in the bunch? Still even if every tree dies, I applaud their efforts. One thing not mentioned is that reclamation on former mine sites only have to return the land to a “higher value” of use. Forest land returned to forest land usually does not meet that criteria, however leaving it barren or covered in grasses (much of the time exotic) leaves the landowner with plenty of gameland or possible pasture for a sustainable cattle operation (and therefore “higher use”). It is the landownder that has ultimate say in how they wish to leave the land post-mining. Personally I would like to see all reclamation sites returned to forest, but until a better soils management scheme is inserted into the SMCRA permits, mining companies will continue to go the less expensive route when it comes to reclamation. And who wouldn’t want to see a herd of Rocky Mountain Elk on their property?

  6. Sid Moye says:

    The tree that Junior is holding is a tulip poplar, there was one oak tree and 43 hemlocks. The hemlocks came from the top of the mountain, the highest point on my farm. The ground stays very dry there throughout the summer and there are hundreds of them thriving there. If these trees do not survive it will be for the lack of soil which is now at the bottom of the nearby valleyfill.

  7. john johnson says:

    sorry that some of y’all didn’t approve of the species mix.

    we don’t have access to the AML fund or the millions of profits generated by mountain top removal.

    so we worked with what was available and what we could afford.

    hemlocks, which despite their preference for cool, shady hollers, can be seen occasionally growing, and thriving, on south facing slopes with poor soil conditions. (i have witnessed such in Linville Gorge, NC (west facing slopes) in Sequatchie County, TN in Lane Cove and other places). these were provided by a local volunteer.

    in addition, mulch and soil amendments were added to most, if not all, nuts and saplings planted, hopefully garnering a higher survival rate.

    the tulip poplar was NOT selected because it is the TN state tree, but because it was available. the reporter misquoted me.

    and speaking of misquoting, I stated that hemlocks are important because they shade creeks and keep them cool for trout and other stream dwellers, NOT because their roots clean the streams. This was in the context of talking about the trees in general and not about reclamation.

    also, the pin oak was available. hopefully it will mimic its cousin the scarlet oak and thrive on this poor site.

    in addition, oak acorns (likely chestnut and scarlet oaks given what was present in the canopy), walnuts, apples and tulip poplar seeds were gathered on the private property adjacent to the mine site and also planted and scattered.

    nut planting on a strip mine is also a dicey proposition, but I have done it before in the context of official scientific experiments and there is some survival and growth from direct seeding.

  8. Kevin says:

    Ahh, I see. Sorry I didn’t click through to read the entire story. My mistake.

  9. Nikki says:

    Point being, these people could have saved themselves a lot of money by letting reclamation happen! Coal companies hire environmental agencies to return and reclaim the land! All of the strip mines I’ve ever seen always have green trees GROWING!!!

    Stop bashing your own area’s economy people. If you want to get mad at someone tearing down your mountains, talk to your government! Everyday, I see a mountain being torn down to build houses on!!! It’s not just coal! COAL KEEPS YOUR LIGHT ON! Get with it!

  10. brian says:

    of note –
    All of the Eastern and Carolina Hemlocks are going to fall prey to the wooly adelgid. Planting more of them is futile and maybe even counter-productive as it provides more hosts for the migrating insects.

    These trees are vital to the watershed ecosystems in Appalachia. The approaching die-out will produce much stress and probably catastrophe in some instances. There are no easy answers. Eventually a resistant species of tree will succeed the Eastern Hemlock. Until then watershed habitats, especially those already stressed from other conditions, will be in a precarious state of flux.

  11. john johnson says:


    while you are correct about the potential impact of the hemlock woolly adelgid on hemlocks, your prescription against planting more, is, in my not so humble opinion, wrong.

    There should be more of these trees planted across the landscape, in a variety of conditions (aspect, slope position, etc…) in the hope that the species evolves some sort of resistance (or coevolutionary relationship) to this foreign invader. Western and Asian hemlocks have evolved with the adelgid, and given time, our eastern and Carolina hemlocks may as well.

    in the mean time, scientists continue to develop chemical and biological treatments for this keystone species. (and they are planting them in central and south America to preserve genetic diversity for seed sources for future restoration efforts).

  12. Jason Robinson says:

    there are still american chestnuts growing in our woods and some of them produce fruits before they are killed by blight. those fruits are an important source of genetic variability and over time some individuals may hit the lottery and develop resistance to blight.

    continuing to plant hemlocks will increase the probability of hemlock survival across it’s range. rapid evolution of pathogen resistance is well documented in many different kinds of organisms and the best way to keep hemlocks around is to keep planting them, even if they die. young trees still produce seeds. eastern hemlock is unlikely to go extinct since there is such an enormous population size in north america. carolina hemlock, being endemic to a few ridges in north carolina, faces a much more serious threat.

    It’s time for forest reclamation to be taken seriously as something more than tree farming. Johnny Johnson you the man!

  13. thelma says:

    I think this effort is a very positive step, and those who have chosen this endeavor, even though people are critical, have done a good job.
    Possibly non profits could partner with the an arbor foundation group, and trees could be planted in honor or memory of a loved one, and sent to this group? . Too bad pine trees won’t work. They would be great for Christmas.

  14. brian says:

    john j,

    Agreed, I suppose. It is impossible to tell really without a lot more data. But I submit to your reasoning and presumed background knowledge.

    I am leery of ‘chemical and biological treatments’ . If you could link to the references, I would appreciate it. I have read about plans to release an invasive predator species in North Carolina. Those strategies always seem dubious. Why can’t we just try to introduce the Pacific Hemlock?

  15. Scott14 says:

    jimmy, We at FOLA have planted 4 MILLION of these trees over the past 16 years. We like yourselves are stewards of the enviroment where we live.

  16. Jason Robinson says:

    Scott anybody tracking survival etc? That stuff should get published! I’d like to see every existing reclamation site be an active ecological experiment.

  17. john johnson says:

    There is not enough space here to list all the references to scientific work being done on chemical and biological control of hemlock wooly adelgids. Here a couple of starter links:

    in addition, the main chemical being used is called imidacloprid so a search on that term will yield all sorts of information.

    I wrote a review of the literature paper for a class a few years ago, but its on my old computer and I can’t get to it right now. Most of my information comes from following the story in the mainstream media and taking multiple classes on forest pests. In addition, I worked as student research assistant for one of the professors working on this issue. So I gleaned a lot of info from being in the lab and talking with grad students as they prepared posters and papers on the subject.

    I have also visited the University of Tennessee Beneficial Insects Laboratory for a class and found them to be most diligent in their work to ensure the beetles don’t become a problem later on. My understanding is that bio-control experts learned their lesson some years ago when they released a bug to eat invasive thistle plants and it ended up impacted native populations of thistle.

    The bummer about chemical treatment is that while it is effective, the collateral damage to other insects is extensive and the trees will be chemically dependent for the rest of their lives (or ‘till something comes along that wipes out the HWA – a scenario not likely right now).

    Some authors to look up in the scientific literature:
    Grant, JF; Lambdin, PL; Rhea, RJ; Dilling, C; Wiggins, GJ; McClure, M;

    Two of the predatory beetles being studied:
    Sasajiscymnus tsugae and Laricobius nigrinus.

    As to why not plant the Western hemlock, not sure, ‘cept that I think other options should be explored first.

Leave a Reply