New Research Could Change How Wyoming Reclaims Abandoned Mine Sites

Feb 19, 2020

Kurt Fleisher standing on undisturbed land near Rock Springs.
Credit Kristina Hufford

A new study published by researchers at the University of Wyoming could make mine cleanups less ecologically impactful. The scientists tested something called geomorphic reclamation at two abandoned mine sites in Freemont County and just outside of Rock Springs, and compared the findings with traditional practices.

Geomorphic reclamation is a reconstruction technique that aims to restore land to its original state by following natural drainage patterns, while traditional methods create a more uniform landscape that does not blend in with its surroundings.

Kristina Hufford, a University of Wyoming professor and her former graduate student Keith Fleisher, published their findings in the Journal of Ecological Management. They think the implications of their study could improve reclamation statewide.

"Abandoned mine lands are one example of disturbances that really impact communities in the west. We're making more and more advances, and this is one example," Hufford said. "Where we see that among the different techniques that are available to us that we might be able to pick and choose and have a bigger impact on improving the landscape, returning all the uses including recreation, ranching, all the things we do here in the west."

The goal is to revive and blend the landscape until the mine site almost disappears. While geomorphic reclamation cannot entirely restore the land, researchers found that shrubs such as sagebrush came back at ten times the rate when compared with traditional techniques. Both Hufford and Fleisher say that more research is needed, but this could help preserve the state's wildlife as well as potentially open up new areas for recreation and ranching.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Megan Feighery, at mfeigher@uwyo.edu.