The Appalachia area has a decades-long history of toxic coal-mining which has done almost irreparable damage to the local ecosystems.
However, an ex-coal man wants to change this, and so far, he has planted over 187 million trees. Meet Angel who has been the driving force behind a re-greening of coal country that has given out-of-work miners a chance to undo the environmental damage that they contributed to during coal’s hay day.
Angel Started Working on His Project in 2002
After a 25-year career in OSM (Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement), Angel wanted to undo the harm done by his profession. He started small, encouraging the coal companies to pack rubble and plant grass on the remains of mountaintop blasting and strip mining sites.
However, in 2002, Angel noticed that the big trees were not returning to the area.
The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative
After pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky, Angel met Chris Barton – a young forestry professor who was studying how regrowing trees could solve frequent flooding problems. Angel, who was still working for OSM at the time, opened a new position to work on reforesting old strip mines and mountaintop removal sites.
It was Barton himself who filled the position. Together, the two partners created the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative in 2004. Regulators from all levels of government, scientists, environmentalists, and even coal miners agreed that trees should be planted on mines.
Planting Trees vs Mining
Without a doubt, Angel and Barton’s journey hasn’t been easy. It’s no secret that planting trees is much less profitable than mining. Many have asked why someone would do the conversion.
The answer is simple.
The locals from West Virginia and Kentucky understand the beauty and importance of their forested homes. Also, it is illegal to close a mine without reforesting the area. Since there are no major environmental groups helping the area, someone has to do it.