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UW's Reclamation Center Offers Research, Training to Reclaim Disturbed Wyoming Lands

October 16, 2009

With temperatures dipping and winter planning how to best sock the state, it's time for - planting?

Energy companies wait until late October to plant seeds to help reclaim disturbed areas. Soils are cool so seeds typically won't germinate until soils warm in the spring, and the seeds can also take advantage of moisture from winter snowpack, said Pete Stahl, director of the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center (WRRC) at the University of Wyoming. 

The WRRC in the College of Agriculture offers research, expertise and training to energy companies, contractors - anyone - to help reclamation efforts be successful. Its Web site is

"I feel strongly about the center," said Stahl, a professor of soil ecology in the Department of Renewable Resources in the College of Agriculture. He's been working with energy companies conducting restoration and reclamation research for more than 30 years.

"Wyoming is a super-stressful environment," he said. "It has high elevations and cold temperatures, and it is dry with shallow soils. It's not easy to reclaim lands in Wyoming. One of the things we try to do is provide good reclamation practices. We try to teach people the importance of reclamation planning before they even create a disturbance."

Part of the WRRC's mission of teaching and research is outreach. A "Reclamation 101" workshop Thursday, Oct. 22, in Rawlins, is open to anyone interested in reclamation. Participants will spend half the day in the classroom and the afternoon in the field for hands-on experiences. Topics include soils, weed problems, wildlife issues, water and hydrology, revegetation and monitoring. For more information, contact Calvin Strom, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service educator in Rawlins, at (307)328-2642

"We want to get the word out to everybody so they understand what is going on with their state and federal lands," Stahl said. "Another important reason we want to help the general public know what is going on in reclamation is to help private landowners keep up with what is happening on their places."

Gov. Dave Freudenthal during the last legislative session tapped the WRRC to receive about $2 million in Abandoned Mine Land funds, with the College of Agriculture to raise another $10 million to create a permanent endowment.

The WRRC works with a web of entities: state and federal government regulatory agencies, energy companies and contractors, and it also attends to training undergraduate and graduate students for a minor or certificates in land restoration and reclamation.

The energy industry has been very helpful to the center, Stahl said. "They have supported the center financially, attend our workshops and are supportive of helping develop the reclamation technology they are so dependent upon to successfully accomplish their mission."

The recent oil and gas boom has made the energy industry the most in need of reclamation assistance, even though the activity is slowing down, he said. The coal mining industry has been conducting reclamation for many years.

The natural gas "patch" with its well pads has its own needs. Regulations require topsoil to be scraped off, stored, respread and reseeded when construction is complete and/or when a well that has quit producing is removed. "The wells are small disturbances compared to coal mines, but, cumulatively, they amount to a lot," said Stahl.

Restoration and reclamation efforts are not new to Wyoming: "Thirty years ago, the National Academy of Sciences studied whether revegetating disturbed landscapes was even possible in Wyoming," said Stahl. "The coal mining companies have demonstrated it can be done. We have made great strides the past 20 to 30 years, but we still have to keep going. We've been building on a lot of work already done."

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