HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – To demonstrate how current mining practices can be used to fix problems caused by past mining practices for the betterment of wildlife, officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and E.P. Bender Coal Company Inc., of Carrolltown, showcased completed wildlife habitat enhancement and abandoned mine reclamation projects on State Game Land (SGL) 108 in Dean Township, Cambria County.

The project began with the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approving, on June 22, 2004, a surface mining coal lease for a 60-acre parcel of SGL 120, which is comprised of 7,541 acres in Cambria and Clearfield counties. As part of the lease, which was executed on May 16, 2005, E.P. Bender could remove 390,000 tons of coal.

On SGL 108 in Dean Township, Cambria County, E.P. Bender Coal Co. worked with the Game Commission to enhance wildlife habitat and improve water quality in the Clearfield Creek watershed. The plan involved the reclamation of abandoned coal refuse piles and stabilization of severely eroded channels that were dumping deep mine discharges into an unnamed tributary of Clearfield Creek. Clearfield Creek and the unnamed tributary are both listed as impaired streams in the Department of Environmental Protection’s 2008 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report. In both cases, the impairment is based on water quality degradation resulting from abandoned mine drainage.

The planned reclamation and habitat improvement project involved the reclamation of two abandoned coal refuse piles totaling 3.5 acres, stabilization of about 1,600 linear feet of two deep mine discharge channels, and the liming, seeding and fertilizing of all disturbed areas to create more than 3.5 acres of herbaceous food plots for wildlife.

“This project, now completed, exceeded what was originally proposed,” said Nate Havens, Game Commission Water Pollution Biologist with Environmental Planning and Habitat Protection Division of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management. “As completed, the project stabilized more than 1,700 linear feet of deep mine discharge channels and created more than 4 acres of herbaceous food plots. Additional wildlife habitat enhancements have been provided through improved riparian corridors along the stabilized channels and numerous brush piles constructed from material that remained onsite following the pre-reclamation timber harvest that was conducted by the Game Commission.

“Now that the coal refuse has been properly graded to a more stable slope, covered with soil and vegetated, coal fines and sediment washing into the unnamed tributary, and ultimately into Clearfield Creek will be significantly reduced. Similarly, the stabilization of the deep mine discharge channels also will result in substantial reductions in sediment loads originating in the channels themselves. Over time, as additional vegetative cover is established, less precipitation will come into contact with the underlying coal refuse, resulting in decreased acidity and metals loading to the unnamed tributary and Clearfield Creek.”

As testament to its commitment to this project and the improvement of water quality in the Clearfield Creek watershed, E.P. Bender Coal Company returned to the site to add another 200 linear feet of limestone riprap to the stabilized channels in an effort to raise the pH-level and reduce the concentration of dissolved metals in the deep mine discharges.

“This limestone was not required as part of the reclamation plan approved under the lease,” Havens said. “However, acting as a good corporate citizen, E.P. Bender willingly exceeded what was originally agreed to in the lease.

“Although these reclamation efforts are not likely to result in non-impairment status for the unnamed tributary, it is an important step toward abating the abandoned mine discharges in this tributary to Clearfield Creek and will hopefully facilitate future efforts toward that goal.”

In addition to the work on SGL 108, E.P. Bender Coal Co., as part of the overall lease agreement, has been actively working with the Game Commission to construct deer exclosure fencing, and to apply herbicide and lime to several designated areas on SGLs 120 and 158 in an effort to enhance forest regeneration and wildlife habitat diversity. Early results from these ongoing projects are showing a favorable response by the vegetative communities.

Also as part of the lease, and in addition to the habitat enhancements and mine reclamation projects, E.P. Bender Coal Company acquired about 12 tracts of land totaling 1,100 acres for the Game Commission. These 12 tracts became parts of SGLs 60, 120, 174 and 276.

“This project is just one of many cooperative projects that the Game Commission has facilitated with private industry through our Oil/Gas and Mineral Development Program,” said William Capouillez, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director. “Although both the Game Commission and industry receive revenue as a result of our leasing actions, it is important to recognize the environmental improvements that are often incorporated into our leases and willingly implemented by operators such as E.P. Bender Coal Company.

“The wildlife habitat enhancement and abandoned mine reclamation projects that E.P. Bender Coal Company implemented on SGLs 108, 120 and 158 were valued at more than $200,000 at the time the plan was developed. This $200,000 is in addition to the coal royalties that are being paid to the Game Commission in the form of land and direct monetary compensation.”