In Texas, a big grassland is the new home for the bobwhite quail and other birds.
Can you imagine birds living where a coal mine used to be? This grassland was part of the Sabine Mine. A type of coal called lignite was found there. Huge machines called draglines were used to remove the top layers of soils and rock so miners could get to the lignite below.
But how does a mine change into a grassland? How can quail be living there now?
The answer is land reclamation. For the coal industry, land reclamation means protecting, restoring, and often improving the land that used to be a coal mine. Reclaimed land can become hardy rangeland, forest, wetland, lake, or recreation area. That way, wildlife can have a new place to live and people can have a new place to enjoy the outdoors.
The Sabine Mine won the Texas Parks and Wildlife Lone Star Land Stewards Award in 2011 because it did a great job creating a new habitat for wildlife. The Sabine Mine reclaims about 400 acres of land every year. That’s equal to around 400 football fields!
The Plants and Animals of Sabine Mine
There are a lot of animals who live on the reclaimed land. Birds such as the eastern meadowlark, scissor-tailed flycatcher, and bobwhite quail call the Sabine Mine home. That means that the Northeast Texas Field Ornithologists (scientists who study birds) can visit the mine to monitor the birds. The bobwhite quail and other grassland species like to live near plants that provide cover for them, so they can feel safe. Reclamation specialists (scientists who are in charge of reclaiming the land) made sure that there were plenty of plants the quail would like at the Sabine Mine. Plants including native Texas grasses, pine trees, and American beautyberry all help make this grassland a good home for the quail.
More than 2.3 million acres of land that used to be coal mines have been reclaimed in the last 25 years. That is a lot of space for plants, animals, and people to enjoy!
How Does Land Reclamation Happen?
Before miners dig their first pit, geologists study the land and biologists study the plants and animals that live on the land. Then they make a plan for how they will reclaim the land so plants and animals can call it home again. The government has to agree to the plan before the mining can start.
When the miners are done, the reclaiming can start. Heavy rock is replaced in the mined area where the coal had been removed, and soil is put on top of that. Then seeds are planted so grasses, flowers, bushes, and trees can start growing. When there are enough plants, animals will come looking for food and shelter.
“The goal of our final reclamation is to make it as good as or better than it was before we mined it,” said Eric S. Anderson, a reclamation specialist that works for the Sabine Mine. If you see how well the bobwhite quail are doing, it looks like they did just that!
Be sure to see the accompanying lesson: