Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Western Energy Company, Environmental Coordinator, Colstrip, MT 59323
Wetland protection is a national priority that was expressed in a declaration by President George Bush at the sixth International Waterfowl Symposium. He stated that our national goal would be no-net-loss of wetlands. To achieve this goal, resource managers need to reduce the loss of existing wetlands and create new wetlands. Although the efforts made in coal mining industry may be small in relation to the scope of the national wetland problem, opportunities do exist for wetland creation, reclamation, and enhancement.
Wetland creation at western surface coal mines has historically been overlooked for several reasons. First, the potential for mine spoils polluting surface and ground-water has been well-documented in eastern coal fields. This concern was the basis for current regulations that limit wetland creation. Second, restoration regulations direct mining companies to return wetlands to the premined condition. These restoration goals limit creative reclamation and prevent wetland creation on reclaimed mine fields. Ponds are probably the most important habitat feature that could be incorporated into a reclaimed surface to enhance local avifauna and other forms of wildlife.
Restoration should not be the goal. An elucidating example of this exists at the Rosebud Mine at Colstrip. During the first 16 years of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), no permanent pit ponds were permitted. However, a pit pond was recently permitted because our operations would redisturb a pre-law pit pond and we were therefore required to restore the wetland.