A reforestation project to bring back Appalachian forests

by Caley Clinton

Tagged Under: Social Responsibility

Appalachian forests

More than one billion people directly depend on forests for their livelihood. And the rest of the world’s population relies on forests for a variety of economic, social and environmental benefits.

“These forests provide all of our recreation, all of our value to why we live here,” said Shanda Minney, executive director of the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation and a resident of West Virginia in the Appalachian region of the eastern United States. “It makes a huge difference to our quality of life as well as the environmental sustainability of the land around us.”

Minney’s foundation works to protect and restore natural forested environments in Appalachia, an area impacted significantly by the long-term mining of natural resources. One of her partners in this effort is Dr. Christopher Barton, founder of Green Forests Work, a non-profit reforestation organization dedicated to proper mine reclamation methods and the reforestation of formerly mined lands.

“What we were seeing in the Appalachian region was a shift in land use and the elimination of these vital forests,” Barton said. “What was predominantly a forested environment prior to mining was being reclaimed as grasslands because it was the only thing that grew in the tightly compacted land required for mine closure. And as time went on the amount of that grassland got larger and larger. We got to the point where, looking at Google Earth, you can see these huge footprints of former forest land where trees no longer grow.”

Since the reforestation organization was founded in 2009, Green Forests Work (GFW) and its volunteers have planted millions of trees to restore more than 4,000 acres of formerly mined land in Appalachia. Now, through a partnership with Komatsu, GFW is on track to restore an additional 1,000 acres in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest by 2021.

“Our equipment digs the earth and it's part of our job to make sure that we're good stewards of that earth and doing things that are helping our local communities,” said Rod Schrader, chairman & CEO - Komatsu Americas.

Komatsu excavator prepping earth at GFW event

Schrader and the leaders of Komatsu’s North American subsidiaries joined GFW, the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service and others this May to plant thousands of trees as part of the restoration projects in the Monongahela. Using Komatsu excavators and bulldozers, the land is first prepped for planting by ripping up the tightly compacted soil left from outdated mine reclamation methods. GFW advocates for a more natural approach to mine closure – one that accounts for erosion concerns while still allowing natural forested environments to thrive for generations to come.

“The fact that we make equipment that mined the resource out of the ground and now we can be a part of making sure it's restored to its natural habitat, also with our equipment, is very exciting,” Schrader said. “It's part of our job to make sure that we are good stewards of the earth and doing things that are helping our local communities.”

Komatsu’s partnership with GFW includes equipment loans, employee volunteers to plant, money to cover the costs of site preparation and tree seedlings, and shared advocacy of the need for mine reclamation methods that allow growth of natural vegetation and forests.

Close-up of Komatsu gloves during tree planting

“With Komatsu’s support, we're taking what we've done here in Appalachia and hopefully moving it to other parts of the world,” Barton said. “We see this as an opportunity for doing the same type of engagement with local communities on a global perspective.”

An added benefit to local communities is the creation of vital new jobs, tied to the reforestation projects.

“Our idea was to create what we called a regenerative economy,” Barton said. “To regenerate the forest, hire local people to run equipment to do site preparation, hire local people to collect seed and to plant the trees … We work to put all that money right back into these areas that were impacted.”

Willing partners are necessary to make the impact required, Minney said.

“There's an endless need and that need can't be met by any one group on their own,” Minney said. “Partnerships are critical to bringing all of the resources and all of the money in to do this important work.”

With the power of Komatsu and our industry partners behind reforestation projects, the opportunity to affect positive change grows exponentially.

“I think this is a great example of a major effort Komatsu is making to contribute to the community and to the planet,” said Jeffrey Dawes, president & CEO – Komatsu Mining. “The concept to be working in reforestation is great but we needed a catalyst. We needed someone to help us join. Green Forests Work has the ideas and the know how. We've got the resources and we've got the intention. So we’re a great match to get this done.”

John Fiedler, president - Hensley Industries, who was with Dawes and Schrader at the May planting, agreed wholeheartedly.

Komatsu executives planting trees in Appalachia

“Komatsu stepping up and saying this is something that's important, to be conscious of the environment and give back, is great,” Fiedler said. “I think us contributing will make a big difference."

To learn more about GFW and Komatsu’s partnership, check out this video from a May planting:

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