Reclamation Part III

Planting

Baseline vegetation data indicates that the average native plant coverage is 2.4 plants per square meter in undisturbed areas of this site. To ensure success, we plant 3-4 seedlings/salvaged plants per square meter. This over-planting will accommodate a possible thirty percent die off of the young native plants during the first five years.

Plant community knowledge is very important in species placement. A power-auger is the preferred method for digging each hole, especially when installing thousands of plants. Seedling protection is a must at this site; herbivores (rabbits, deer, bighorn sheep,) can decimate a half mile run in a single day. Three-year biodegradable plant tubes held in place with bamboo stakes are the protection of choice, with one simple modification. We make four cuts in the lower part of the tubes. These flaps are folded back at the time of tube installation and rocks are then placed on these flaps, further securing the protection of the seedlings. This additional step prevents the cages from being dislodged during high winds, and large herbivores are unable to remove them. The rocks surrounding the protection cages act as mulch keeping valuable moisture around the plants. Irrigation is then run to each individual plant. The final step is to place a couple of handfuls of the mulch, salvaged from the old growth forest areas around the seedlings. These handfuls of mulch transfer mycorrhizal fungi to the plants. Then, water is added to start the growth process.

Outplant Success

Since August of 2003 the Mitsubishi Cement Corporation (MCC) site has seen the development of test plots, revegetation commencement in two distinct elevations / plant communities, with approximaty 214,158 square feet being reclaimed for habitat lands.

Endangered Species

MCC, in conjunction with various outside agencies, is developing and implementing several endangered species projects. The first project is the Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep monitoring program. This research based plan entails identifying, collaring, and monitoring the movements of this beautiful animal. MCC employees are encouraged to participate in this plan. Employees have access to cards identifying various characteristics of the sheep, and when spotted, record all pertinent data (date, time, weather conditions, elevation, and whether the animal is collared). This information will further help us to understand and protect this animal’s lifestyle.

Carbonate Endemics

Four species of native plants at the MCC site are rare enough to be protected by either State or Federal listings as “THREATENED OR ENDANGERED SPECIES”. These four plants are Parish’s Daisy (Erigeron parishii), Cushenbury Milkvetch (Astragalus Albens), Cushenbury Oxytheca (Oxytheca Parishii), and Cushenbury Buckwheat (Eriogonum Ovalfolium). Several plans have been implemented to protect these four endangered species. Methods of protection include the following: salvage the plants from a site to be disturbed and transplant to a reclaimed bench, collect seed and have the plants propagated, and remove cuttings from healthy plants to have them cloned. All three of these methods are in use to save these valuable plant species. Another strategy in place for ensuring these plants’ survival is for each acre impacted by mining, three acres are left as pristine habitat.

Monitoring

Data is recorded throughout all aspects of this reclamation project. During seed collection a G.P.S. is used to record elevations and map coordinates. Plant salvage and shadehouse data is retained for use in yearly reporting. Site monitoring protocols have been developed in terrestrial vegetation measurement and vigor scoring. Monitoring pins are placed on the reclaimed sites once planting has been concluded. For five years these site measurements are recorded showing growth rates and survivability. Though this project is in the beginning stages, the data collected demonstrate an above average survival rate in the mid-ninety percentile range.

Exotic Species Control

Controlling invasive non-native plant species in reclaimed sites can be an arduous task. Currently these sites are being invaded by Russian thistle (tumbleweed) and the Bromus species of grasses. The old fashioned technique of removing weeds by hand is used to minimize site soil disturbances.

Research

MCC is dedicated to the progression of knowledge in the ecological recovery of the Mojave Desert. Ongoing, on-site research projects are an important part of this advancement. Data is systematically recorded on reclaimed bench open areas (spaces not directly influenced by our reclamation outplanting). Our interest is in the progressive natural spread of native plants in the regions surrounding the islands. This information will aid in most Mojave reclamation projects. Yearly, measurements are taken of these open areas. Over the duration of this project ten locations will be monitored and records will be retained regarding the natural evolution and advancement of the native plants. This research is projected to run twenty years on over ten sites with an anticipated eighty percent confidence level on data recorded.

Another research project underway is slope recovery. This project involves direct seeding of a given slope. A mix of native seed and commercial mycorrhizal inoculums will be mixed into the soil using a raking method. Higher than average germination rates and cost effectiveness over hydroseeding are being compared.

Valley Views

In addition to the reforestation project, MCC considers the visual impacts on its neighbors a priority issue. Currently they are using a gray limestone, quarried at the mine, to cover the white areas (ROAD CUTS) viewed from the valley on the mountainside. This is a work in progress and will take a few years to accomplish.

Valley Views Two

The desired end result after all reclamation activities are completed will be the return of wildlife habitats and visual impacts are minimized.

Mojave Sustainability Project

MCC is one of the founding partners in the Mojave Sustainability Project. The goal of this partnership is to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill their own requirements.

MCC recognized that this responsibility does not rest singularly on a specific industry, institution, government agency, or individual. To accomplish the goal of sustainability, a complete community-based ethic in which all are components, would be required. MCC has taken the sustainability project to heart, contributing both financially and physically to various educational and community institutions promoting advances in knowledge in all areas of education and at all grade levels. Community activities include open house events, on-site tours, and civic responsibilities such as community leadership roles. Environmental issues such as its reclamation project, landfill reduction project, fugitive dust control projects, and its endangered species programs are positive ways to address ecological issues to the local community.

Keys to Success

MCC has reached out to various specialists, educational facilities, and its local community in order to reclaim the lands affected by their mining operation. This joint effort creates a synergistic relationship that is overcoming the challenges of reclamation in this extreme environment. These interactions are bringing about the return of wildlife habitats as well as minimizing the visual impacts of this mining operation.

Desert Caretakers

MCC’s active reclamation project, as it is presented here, provides optimum results with the best economy of time and investment. Mitsubishi Cement Corporation’s holistic and integrative approach ultimately enhances California and its mining industry.

Information compiled by Scott Lasley & BJ Jones of Silver Sage Reclamation