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Group seeks massive effort to reforest Appalachian mine sites

APPALACHIAN, KY -- Talk about a tree-huggers greatest dream!

A group promoting reforestation in Appalachia is seeking more than $422 million to plant trees on mountains that were cleared or leveled for surface mining, a program that could have far-reaching impact on the economy and environment of the region, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

Leaders of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative are seeking federal stimulus money to plant 125 million trees in Central Appalachia, including Eastern Kentucky.

The goal is to put back trees on hundreds of thousands of acres where they once stood, but which coal companies reclaimed as grassland after surface mining over the last three decades.

The plan could boost the economy in one of the nation's most chronically poor areas, ultimately providing an estimated 2,000 jobs for forestry technicians, tree-planters, bulldozer operators and others, backers estimate.

But supporters say the project also would provide benefits for decades to come.

Converting large blocks of Appalachian forest to grassland while reclaiming mountaintop mines has eliminated habitat for some species. Reforesting large areas would re-create the natural habitat as nearly as possible, according to scientists involved in the initiative.

It could also improve water quality in streams, reduce the potential for flooding, soak up carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lay the foundation for an expanded wood-products economy, supporters say.

They hope the Obama administration will see the proposal as a chance to accomplish two goals at once with federal stimulus money: putting people to work and improving the environment.

"It's shovel-ready," said Patrick N. Angel, a soil scientist and forester with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. "We would start hiring people right now if we had money."

The proposal is from the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative. ARRI brings together scientists, regulators from the federal government and seven states, coal companies and environmental groups.

Scientists with the group have given a copy of the proposal to President Obama's green-jobs czar and have a meeting scheduled soon with the White House.

ARRI has been working for several years to promote wider use of trees, planted according to a scientifically tested method, to reclaim mined areas, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader.

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