Natural Processes: An Effective Model for Mine Reclamation

David Polster
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Restoration programs based on the use of natural processes can reduce the costs of restoration 
while providing self-sustaining restored ecosystems that re-integrate with the local recovery 
trajectories. Natural processes have been restoring disturbance sites since the advent of terrestrial vegetation over 450 million years ago.  By following how these processes operate these recovery processes can be harnessed for the reclamation of mining disturbances. The first step in developing a restoration program that uses natural processes is to identify the factors or filters that are preventing or constraining natural recovery.  Polster listed eight filters that are common on many mine sites. Compaction, erosion and steep slopes are three of the most common filters at large mines.  How do natural processes solve these problems? Using a model based on observation of these natural solutions to common problems, restoration systems for drastically disturbed sites can be developed. Flattening slopes and preparing the site using the rough and loose technique addresses these issues. Pioneering species such as willows, poplars and alder can be used to initiate the natural successional processes that will restore the site. The addition of physical structures such as large woody debris and rock piles can aid in the return of the functions that were associated with these structures (e.g., habitat). The use of natural processes and the re-establishment of ecological functions associated with these processes can greatly benefit the recovery of degraded sites with little or no cost to industry. Examples are provided from the author's experience.