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National reclamation award for Wyoming coal mine

World Coal,

Cloud Peak Energy has announced that the company’s Antelope mine, located in northeastern Wyoming, has received the 2014 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Reclamation Award from US Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The coal mine was recognised for its innovative techniques to promote native plant species and control cheatgrass, an introduced, invasive, and undesirable plant species.

“This award is a testament to our employees at Antelope Mine and their commitment to pioneering reclamation practices,” said Colin Marshall, Cloud Peak Energy’s President and CEO. “We recognise that mining is a temporary use of the land and are very proud of our long-standing environmental record of returning land that has been mined back in as good or better condition than when we began. Our reclamation efforts will continue to be an important part of the mining process.”

“The work at the Antelope mine to control cheatgrass has been an ongoing effort and involved significant research and development,” said Steve Cowan, general manager at the Wyoming mine. “We hope the techniques developed here will help those in the mining and energy sectors as well as agriculture and others to continue to improve reclamation around the country.”

Operations at the Antelope mine used innovative husbandry practices and custom seeding techniques to restore reclamation areas dominated by the invasive cheatgrass. The company said that this technology is applicable to both reclaimed and native lands.

The mine has successfully transformed over 400 acres of cheatgrass-dominated lands into sustainable native perennial stands that achieve the post-mining land use goal of providing for livestock grazing and wildlife use.

“The reclamation practices developed at the Antelope mine have landscape scale application to reclaimed and native grassland environments where cheatgrass has become the dominant and undesirable plant species,” said Kyle Wendtland, environmental manager at the Antelope mine. “We believe that potential long-term benefits for species like sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse exist by taking sound, science-based steps to develop strategies improving habitat on reclamation and native grassland environments.”

Cheatgrass is not very palatable for domestic livestock and wildlife, reduces habitat value, and has a preference for establishment on disturbed sites. Cheatgrass has infested an estimated 50 – 53 million acres on the Western landscape and has made it a challenge to achieve consistent native grass-dominated communities on disturbed land surfaces.

The husbandry practice that has been developed uses an implement specifically designed to mechanically remove cheatgrass, stimulate establishment of existing perennial species, and develop a diverse, native-plant community without the risk and ecological setbacks that herbicides, re-farming, and prescribed burning pose. The resulting plant community and successional process is sustainable and able to achieve bond release.

Reclamation stands established with sustainable native-plant communities create a diverse landscape and improve habitat for elk, mule deer, and antelope. Long-term benefits also include the means to improve habitat for sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse.

Cloud Peak Energy said in a statement that the reclamation efforts at the mine demonstrate the company’s voluntary commitment to enhance the science of reclamation and improve biodiversity. High-quality land reclamation has been successfully completed on approximately 4050 acres.

In June 2013, Antelope Mine received the prestigious State of Wyoming Reclamation Award from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Land Quality Division also for its techniques to prevent cheatgrass. Antelope Mine reclamation experts have worked with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, industry groups, and others to share best practices for reclamation.

In 2013, Antelope Mine sold approximately 31.4 million t of coal, making it the fourth-largest coal mine in the US last year. Coal mined from Antelope mine is primarily shipped to electric utilities in the western, midwestern, and southeastern US. 

Adapted from press release by Sam Dodson

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