Pitkin County: Hope Mine restoration project update

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

Hints of possible success poked through the landscape this spring, where three cameras are snapping photos every three hours while there’s daylight, capturing what will become time-lapse footage of native grasses taking hold in the challenging landscape. Or not. Though pockets of green dot the expansive tailings pile now, it’s too early to predict any lasting success, according to the man keeping close tabs on the vegetation’s progress. “The next question is how these seedlings will survive in the next few months, over the heat of the summer,” said Morgan Williams, executive director of the Flux Farm Foundation. The organization has an interest in a broader application of the methods used at the Hope Mine — advancing the viability of agriculture in the West…

On the flat area atop the tailings pile, thick grass has filled in among dandelions. The steepest slopes of the pile are showing the least amount of new growth, but other areas are greener, and 42 test plots on a more gently sloping area of the mine waste are producing even more telling results. Revegetating the tailings pile involved the placement of biodegradable netting to hold the application in place; it was covered by a seed mix, compost, biochar, hydromulch and naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi, which help plant roots take in nutrients, particularly in sterile soils. Most of the pile received the same treatment, but in the 7-by-7-foot test plots, each delineated with orange flags poking upward among the grasses, the mix of components is varied. The idea is to identify the optimal mixture, Williams explained. Already, some plots are faring better than others. On test plots that received no application of the growth mixture, the difference is startling. They are essentially bare…

So far, Williams has noted a considerable difference in the condition of the test plots that contain biochar versus those that don’t. On a recent afternoon, with the sun baking the southwest-facing slope, the soil temperature in one test plot treated with biochar was 58 degrees. It’s moisture level stood at 12 percent. Six feet away, on a plot that had not received any application, the soil temperature was 79 degrees and the moisture content was 3 percent. While the monitoring of the Hope Mine reclamation is ongoing, Williams is already a believer in biochar, joining Denver-based soil scientist Andrew Harley in a business venture, Biochar Solutions Inc. Harley was a consultant on the Hope Mine project…

The public will have a chance to see the reclamation project on July 23, during a field trip to the Hope Mine hosted by For the Forest and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The cost is $15 for ACES members and $20 for non-members. Go to www.aspennature.org/programs/summer-fall/adults to register and for more information.

More restoration coverage here.

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