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Middle School Kids Help Reclaim Abandoned Mine

Scott Copeland-The Nature Conservancy

There are thousands of abandoned mines in Wyoming. But recently Lander middle schoolers helped plant sage brush to help reclaim one mine near Jeffrey City.

The Bureau of Land Management teamed up with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups to teach kids about the value of the sage brush steppe ecosystem. BLM archeologist Gina Clingerman said you can’t just toss sage brush seeds out and expect them to thrive. That’s why she taught kids to plant seedlings.

“Our goal really is to teach kids about healthy ecosystems, especially sagebrush steppe ecosystems because it is the one that’s most in peril in Wyoming,” she said. “And also to get them to have an experience with people who do this work in their everyday lives, who use science as part of their job every single day.”

DEQ abandoned mine program manager Don Newton said planting sage brush helps create better habitat for struggling species like mule deer and sage grouse.

“There’s thousands of mines in Wyoming, and we’ve reclaimed many, many, hundreds and hundreds of mines,” said Newton. “I mean, just any one of the areas, whether it’s Gas Hills or the Shirley Basin, we’re talking about extremely large landscapes that could be improved by adding sage brush or other native plants, forbs and grasses and things like that to it.”

This year, the kids planted 900 sage brush seedlings at the Andrea Hunter mine. In coming years, they’ll raise them from seed themselves and plant even more. 

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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