Reclamation Part I

RECLAMATION -The act of restoring the land to be reinhabited by plant and/or animal life. To rescue or bring back.

The Mitsubishi Cement Corporation (MCC) Cushenbury Mine is located thirty miles east of the I-15 Freeway, on the north side of the San Bernardino mountain range, approximately eight miles southeast of Lucerne Valley, California. The current reclamation project activities in the East Pit are bordered by the cement manufacturing plant to the north, Cushenbury Canyon to the east, San Bernardino National Forest lands to the south, and the recently permitted west quarry area on the west side.

Mitsubishi Cement Corporation includes reclamation in its mining plan. As they finish with an area the miners immediately begin to bring saved topsoil back in and to revegetate using seeds, and young plants that have been collected onsite, and propagated by the local Victor Valley College Agriculture Department.

This geographic area of the San Bernardino mountain range contains thirteen different grades of limestone. It also provides a huge challenge in the area of reclamation. Because many of the reclamation projects in the Mojave Desert were put into place before the Reclamation Act of 1973, when the requirements were much less stringent, there is not much in the way of previous data to rely on. In a sense today’s Mojave Desert reclamation projects are pioneering what we call Extreme Reclamation.

Extreme Reclamation Conditions:

  • • ALL VEGETATION AND SOILS ARE REMOVED.
  • • LAND CONTOURS AND DRAINAGE PATTERNS ARE CHANGED.
  • • 8-14 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION PER YEAR.
  • • TEMPERATURE EXTREMES- SUMMERS REACHING TRIPLE DIGiTS AND WINTER TEMPERATURES FALLING TO   SINGLE DIGiTS AT TIMES.
  • • WINDS MEASURED UP TO 120 MILES PER HOUR, STRIPPING THE LANDS OF MOST ORGANIC MATERIAL AND   DRAWING MOST OF THE MOISTURE OUT OF THE SOIL.
  • • ROCK FRACTURE AND FALL DUE TO SEISMIC EVENTS (NORTH FRONTAL FAULT LINE RUNS THROUGH THE   SITE).
  • • ONE OF THE SLOWEST GROWING ECOSYSTEMS IN CALIFORNIA.

Over the past fifteen years MCC has put together a team to succeed in their quarry reclamation project. Together, Paul Kielhold (Natural Resource Management), Victor Valley College A.G.N.R. department led by Neville Slade, Silver Sage Reclamation, and JJ Restoration Service, are attempting to overcome the challenges of this reclamation project.

Reclamation Goals:

  • • MINIMIZE EROSION
  • • CREATE SUITABLE GROUND FOR USE AS WILDLIFE HABITAT
  • • DEVELOP AREAS APPROPRIATE FOR USE AS OPEN SPACE
  • • ELIMINATE EXOTIC PLANT SPECIES
  • • MINIMIZE THE VISUAL IMPACT OF DISTURBANCES
  • • CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF SUCCESSFUL RESTORATION OF THE MOJAVE DESERT

Soil or dirt?

What is the difference between dirt and soil? The presence of MYCORRHIZAL associations, {symbiotic relationships between indigenous plants and soil fungi} is the difference. The basic relationship works like this: the plants supply the fungi with sugar compounds that they produce, and in return, these fungi assist with the plants’ nutrient and water uptake. Most ecosystems in the world involve these relationships. Damage either the plants or the fungi and the fragile systems collapse. Injury can occur by fertilization, use of pesticides and herbicides, soil disturbances, and pollution. Unhealthy ecosystems are easy to spot. Numerous plants will appear sick and are struggling to survive. There will also be an over abundance of exotic plant species (weeds). In the world of biological community restoration, we are actively pursuing these mycorrhizal relationships. We employ a few methods to reintroduce ENDO and ECTO fungi back into the sites that are being reclaimed. The first method is to have the seed inoculated with commercial inoculums at the time of germination. The second is to go into permitted old growth forest areas and remove some of the decaying organic matter (DUFF)from the forest floor. We then add this mulch to the newly out planted seedlings. The third technique is a direct transfer of salvaged native plants, from sites that are to be impacted by future mining to new sites under reclamation activities.

Plant Diversity
Plant Diversity

Plant Communities:

MCC’s quarry and manufacturing plant operate on lands with unique topographical variations that support three distinct biological communities. Elevations at this site range from 5,800′ to 3,900′, supporting over eighty species of plant diversity. Vegetation above 4,500′ is the classic PIÑION-JUNIPER WOODLAND*. Between 4,000′ and 4,500′ is home to the BLACKBUSH SCRUB* community, finally transitioning down to JOSHUA TREE WOODLAND/ DESERT RIPARIAN* (Cushenbury Springs) at the lowest elevations. All three plant communities are truly beautiful and require extensive knowledge of plant interactions. Not all native plants are comfortable as neighbors, so we carefully studied all of these communities and applied our findings to the science of ecological recovery on this project. The current reforestation project covers two of these distinct native plant communities. The first site is located above 5,000ft (Piñion-juniper woodland) and is on the north facing aspect of the east quarry. The second location is at an elevation of 4,100′ (Blackbush scrubland) south-southwest of the manufacturing plant, it is identified as the C.K.D. pile.

*Mackay 2003
Information compiled by Scott Lasley and BJ Jones of Silver Sage Reclamation