As part of this effort, we routinely analyze baseline hydrology (including water quality and quantity), existing biological communities, the presence of endangered species, anthropological resources, landscape structure and soil conditions, and native plant species, among other aspects.
Our industry is one of the most highly regulated business sectors in the United States. We operate under an extensive regulatory regime that includes state and federal components of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, Toxic Substances and Control Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, among others. Our team of skilled and experienced environmental engineers and compliance managers work closely with state and federal agencies to ensure that our operations are in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
As a routine and required stage of the overall mining life-cycle, Arch devotes significant time and attention to reclaiming sites after mining activities are completed. Our subsidiaries undertake contemporaneous reclamation at all active sites. In addition to timely and contemporaneous reclamation of active sites, we responsibly manage idled and closed mine assets, including any pre-existing obligations associated with prior acquisitions. Included in this latter category are transferred properties where we apply our expertise and a range of innovative practices to mitigate and eliminate water impacts and shorten the amount of time needed for ongoing treatment.
In every operating region, we take our reclamation efforts seriously and are often recognized for excellence by state and federal agencies. Each reclamation project is viewed as unique, and great attention is paid to ensure that the land is restored to its approximate original contours and to an equal or better post-mining land use. Often the reclaimed land is indistinguishable from surrounding terrain within just a few growing seasons. We are committed to pursuing continuous improvement in our reclamation techniques in order to ensure that we are leaving sustainable lands for both wildlife and community needs.
Committed to Reclamation Excellence
million in past decade
We take pride in our restoration efforts — whether for wildlife habitat, range land, forestland or community use — and we work diligently to ensure the land is returned to equal or better condition than that which prevailed in its pre-mining state.
As part of our reclamation work, Arch subsidiaries have planted more than 2.7 million indigenous trees on reclaimed land in the past decade. In recognition of its efforts, Arch has received the coveted Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) Award six of the past 10 years. This award is presented by a coalition of federal and state regulatory authorities, citizens’ groups, landowners and industry representatives to members in our industry that demonstrate the most innovative and proactive reforestation efforts. The reforestation practices implemented by Arch across its reclaimed properties help improve habitat, preserve water quality, reduce erosion, and restore native forest cover across thousands of acres of formerly mined properties.
At our western operations, where the landscape is a grassland environment, Arch subsidiaries have successfully established over 1,900 acres of native grassland shrub habitat, which is a critical component of a healthy grassland ecosystem.
In Wyoming, our subsidiary operations utilize practices that ensure reclaimed habitat provides needed forage, nesting and coverage requirements for native bird species. Reclamation grading and landscaping simulate the topography of the native lands, and specific seed mixtures of native grasses and shrubs are selected to replicate pre-mine habitat.
Overall, our operations have restored more than 14,000 acres of reclaimed land since 2016. In recent years, we have placed particular emphasis on completing Phase III release, which is the final stage of bond release on reclaimed areas, as well as the final regulated step in the mining process. State regulatory inspectors oversee and approve each successive step in the process and ultimately approve final release of the properties from protective reclamation bonds. We have placed a major emphasis on reclamation and bond release companywide. Since 2016, our subsidiaries have secured full bond release on more than 16,000 acres of reclaimed land that were restored prior to 2016. Final release is only granted once an operation has demonstrated that the landscape has been successfully reclaimed and that the vegetation is effectively established and stable.
Arch and its subsidiaries understand and embrace the importance of protecting, restoring and enhancing ecosystems in our operating regions before, during and after mining takes place, and our subsidiaries protect, restore, and enhance ecosystems at all of their operating sites. With help from a variety of organizations, we go to great lengths to protect, preserve, and establish suitable habitats for wildlife. Our properties often serve as wildlife reserves for a variety of native species, even while reclamation is still under way.
In particular, our subsidiaries have made substantial efforts to protect and promote avian populations, with a particular emphasis on raptor species. Our Wyoming subsidiary has worked to provide improved habitat on reclaimed lands, establishing new and replacement nesting structures, and relocating and rescuing birds as needed. The Wyoming operations have also initiated an Avian Protection Plan (APP) with the goal of eliminating or minimizing risks to avian species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), including risks posed by aboveground power lines and associated electrical structures. As part of the initial work for the plan, all electrical structures on our sites were scrutinized by wildlife professionals to evaluate potential impacts. We have since removed 100 percent of the identified hazards. This work included removing power lines and poles and providing alternate perches for such species as the Golden Eagle. Additionally, our operations have built nesting platforms on reclaimed land to encourage nesting away from active operations, and have created nest sites using natural substrate including trees, rock, outcrops and banks.
In an ongoing raptor study, our Wyoming operations are working with and supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the nesting and migration patterns of the Burrowing Owl, a regional species that thrives on and around our Wyoming operations. In 2019, there were 25 owls captured on our Wyoming operations, with transmitters deployed on the 12 adults. These transmitters will enable government officials to better understand migration routes and wintering areas, which in turn may provide valuable insights into the reasons for the decline of the species, and on ways to improve management efforts.
Furthermore, our Wyoming subsidiary has worked for more than five years with state and local conservation groups in an effort to protect the Greater Sage Grouse. The Greater Sage Grouse, which is found in sagebrush country in the western United States, is the largest grouse in North America. The bird’s numbers began declining in the second half of the 20th Century in many areas, resulting in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing the Greater Sage Grouse as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Arch’s Wyoming subsidiary is a member of the Thunder Basin Grassland Prairie Ecosystem Association. This association was created to develop core protection areas and to provide stipulations for development within these areas as part of an effort to conserve and expand the species through habitat enhancement. Candidate conservation agreements for the sage grouse were developed and approved by the USFWS, and act to protect and enhance habitat critical to the bird’s ongoing success.
As a further example of our commitment to wildlife and habitat enhancement and utilization, our land management subsidiary has teamed with the State of West Virginia and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in an ongoing public-private partnership to restore Wild Elk populations to their native historic range. This partnership, which has been in place for more than five years, uses Arch’s reclaimed mine property in southern West Virginia because it provides high quality habitat with a very low density of human use. It has achieved dramatic results in the reintroduction and sustainability of Wild Elk herds in ever-expanding numbers