POCKING: Potentially the “best” technique for restoring remote canyon landscapes during mine reclamations

Pocking for Cottonwood-Wilberg mine reclamation Courtesy & Copyright Chris Brown
Pocking for Cottonwood-Wilberg mine reclamation
Courtesy & Copyright Chris Brown
In Utah, when a coal mine closes, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (OGM) is the agency responsible for overseeing the reclamation.

PacifiCorp is a mining company that provides electrical utility to one million customers in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming via Rocky Mountain Power. When it submitted the Cottonwood-Wilberg mine reclamation proposal, it claimed a sedimentation pond which catches run off, would not be needed. OGM was skeptical and initially rejected the plan.
Dennis Oakley, senior mine engineer at PacifiCorp said, “We explored the state and federal regulations and found there was some latitude if we could show we were using the best technology currently available.”

Tom Thompson, GIS Manager at OGM said, “Technology has come a long way, if we leverage it correctly we could do a lot better for our environment.”

The method PacifiCorp claimed as the best technology available was deep gouging, or “pocking”; a technique used to prevent erosion and stimulate vegetation growth on steep sloped landscapes.

To use pocking, the natural canyon slopes are first restored, then pocks three feet in diameter and one-and-a-half feet deep are dug into the slopes next to each other in a random and discontinuous fashion. The landscape soon resembles the surface of a golf ball with thousands of dimples.

Green dyed hydro-mulching, which contains native seeds, moisture and a protective layer of mulch is then sprayed over the entire pocked landscape.

When it rains the pocks capture the water, forming mini ponds. The moisture is slowly absorbed into the ground, preventing run off and giving the seeds a moist environment for growth.

Each year the sides of the pocks slowly erode into themselves, and the vegetation becomes established and spreads. Eventually the pocks fill with sediment and fade into a natural looking stable slope.

If pocking is the best technology currently available – then OGM wanted to know.

With the help of PacifiCorp, OGM set up the Cottonwood-Wilberg mine as a research site to determine the efficiency of pocking.

To add additional expertise to the research, OGM applied for Utah Legislature appropriated funds, to access to the knowledge of Doug Ramsey, the director of the Remote Sensing and GIS Laboratory, in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University, and his graduate student Chris Brown.

Ramsey and Brown explain, The RS/GIS lab is evaluating the pocks by using drone imagery of the entire landscape to create 3D models and topographic maps that identify where the vegetation is growing, and the depth of each pock across multiple seasons and years to show if the pocks are eroding as expected.

PacifiCorp installed monitoring devices around the reclaimed site so it could measure the amount of precipitation, the vegetation growth over time, and the sediment load of the runoff above and below the disturbed areas.

Oakley explains, “It’s our theory that the sediment levels of the background runoff will be equal to, or less than the runoff at the bottom of the disturbed area.”

Ramsey visited the site in June 2019 and found vegetation was already growing in the bottom of the pocks.

Data from the site will be gathered and analyzed over the next few years. A key part of this monitoring work will be a manual describing the drone data collection and analysis methods so OGM can establish a monitoring protocol for other reclamation sites.

Keenan Storrar, hydrologist from OGM, said, “We hope this research on the pocking technique, which PacifiCorp helped develop, will be published for future operators use.”

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Chris Brown
Audio: Courtesy
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Cottonwood-Wilberg Mine, Emery County, Utah Reclamation, US Department of the Interior, https://eros.usgs.gov/doi-remote-sensing-activities/2018/osm/cottonwood-wilberg-mine-emery-county-utah-reclamation

Cottonwood-Wilberg Mine, Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://www.ogm.utah.gov/coal/minedetail.php?C0150019

The Hidden Life of Trees

The Hidden Life of Trees – The Illustrated Edition Peter Wohlleben, Author, Jane Billinghurst, Translator Greystone Books Ltd.
The Hidden Life of Trees – The Illustrated Edition
Peter Wohlleben, Author,
Jane Billinghurst, Translator
Greystone Books Ltd.
Courtesy Greystone Books Ltd.
Occasionally, we run across a piece of art, music, or literature that we want to share with others. That isn’t always the case with beautiful scenery. Sometimes we want to keep that place as a private haven of serenity. And for good reasons.

Today, I will describe something that has opened my eyes to a world that few people know about. I refer to the research revealed in a book titled “The Hidden Life of Trees”, an International Bestseller, by Peter Wohlleben. He is a Forester-Scientist in Germany who has connected with others in his profession for over 20 years to reveal things about trees that most of us would never have expected. Here is Part One:

You may recall the basic photosynthesis functions related to the lives of trees. Roots carry water and minerals from the soil through the xylem tissues of the trunk up to the leaves. The leaves, with the help of chlorophyll, capture Sunlight Energy and Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere, and release Oxygen into the air. Sugars are also produced and go downward through the phloem tissues to the trunk and roots. The way I remembered this process in biology classes was that the X in xylem has its upper lines reaching skyward, and things Flow downhill.

The scientists knew that most individual trees of the same species growing in the same forest stand are connected to each other through their root systems. Nutrient exchanges revealed that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies. This indicated a sort of social system where trees will share food with their own species and sometimes even nourish their competitors. Why are they considered social beings? Because there are advantages in working together.

It seems that single trees, much like hermits, have greater difficulties in having a successful life. It can be done, but it’s tough. A single tree cannot establish a consistent local climate and must battle weather conditions. Whereas a forest often creates an ecosystem that can somewhat modify extreme temperatures, store a lot of water, and generate a lot of humidity. These kind of living conditions can provide trees with great longevity. But for this success the forest must remain intact. Tree removal, or fatalities, would result in gaps in the tree canopy, which would then allow for greater deviations in temperatures, make trees more vulnerable to uprooting from storms, and allow greater summer heat to dry out the forest floor. Every tree would then suffer.

Wohlleben continues to say that social connections can also be seen in the forest canopy. Most trees grow their branches out until they encounter the branch tips of a neighboring tree of the same height. Growth usually stops there because the air and better light in that space is already being used, and the trees don’t want to take anything away from each other.

But, as a rule, those planted in forests can live much like single wild trees and react by suffering from isolation. And remember that he is writing about forests, not single trees planted in a well-kept yard or for landscaping.

I’ll continue referencing “The Hidden Life of Trees” in future shows and talk about Why Forests are Green; How they act as a Water Pump, and are Carbon Dioxide Vacuums.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Greystone Books, LTD,
Lead Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Wohlleben, Peter, The Hidden Life of Trees, Jane Billinghurst, Translator, Greystone Books Ltd., 2016, https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Life-Trees-Illustrated/dp/177164348X

Wohlleben, Peter, The Hidden Life of Trees – The Illustrated Edition, Jane Billinghurst, Translator, Greystone Books Ltd. 2018, https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Life-Trees-Illustrated/dp/177164348X

Noe, Alva, A Web Of Trees And Their ‘Hidden’ Lives, National Public Radio, September 23, 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/09/23/494989594/a-web-of-trees-and-their-hidden-lives

Kuhns, Michael, https://upcolorado.com/utah-state-university-press/item/2130-a-guide-to-the-trees-of-utah-and-the-intermountain-west

Little, Elbert L, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees–W: Western Region, Chanticleer Press https://www.amazon.com/National-Audubon-Society-American-Trees-W/dp/0394507614 alternatively https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/119974/national-audubon-society-field-guide-to-north-american-trees–w-by-national-audubon-society/

Watts, Tom & Bridget, Rocky Mountain Tree Finder, Nature Study Guild, Menasha Ridge Press, Birmingham, AL https://www.amazon.com/Rocky-Mountain-Tree-Finder-Watts/dp/0912550295 alternatively

What Tree Is That, A Guide to More Common Trees Found in North America, The Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE, https://www.amazon.com/What-Tree-That-America-Recipient/dp/0963465759 alternatively https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/whatTree.cfm?ItemID=E6A

Tree Identification Index, USU Extension Forestry, https://forestry.usu.edu/tree-identification/index

Kuhns, Michael, Rupp, Lawrence, Selecting and Planting Landscape Trees, USU Extension Forestry, https://forestry.usu.edu/files/selecting-and-planting-landscape-trees.pdf

Key To The Trees Of Logan Canyon, USU Extension Forestry, https://forestry.usu.edu/tree-identification/keys-to-trees-of-logan/keys-to-trees-of-logan-canyon

Josh Explains Wild Neoteny

Josh Explains Wild Neoteny: Annual Wildflower Festival Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Annual Wildflower Festival
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
“Hey, stop the truck!” my wife called from the passenger seat, her nose pressed against the window. I already knew what this was about; she was out the door before the dust had cleared the hood, kneeling in the grass. While she hovered over something newly found with purple petals, I stared out across the high, open meadow of blooming wildflowers, the urge to run surging into my feet. I turned at her exclamation several seconds later, half a football field of colored space between us now. Arms spread wide; grins from ear to ear. In a field of wildflowers, we were kids again.

Scientists call it neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in the adult of a species—basically, the harboring of a playful nature into adulthood. The research into the benefits of play, especially outdoor play, is becoming more replete by the day. In humans, play puts the right hemisphere of the brain into gear, that portion responsible for artistic and creative notions, imagination and insight, and holistic thought. The cerebellum and frontal lobes light up as well, increasing attunement to coordination, executive functioning, and contextual memory development. Neoteny, scientists say, is the key to a species’ adaptability and, therefore, its survival.

Alpine Pond Upper Flowers Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Alpine Pond Upper Flowers
Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Wild neoteny could be the term used to describe the human affinity to explore one’s natural surroundings, to wander off into the hills in search of something new and interesting, to learn the nuance of a place and to gain some intimacy with it—to call it home. We do that, I think, when we go on hikes into the wild hinterlands, catapult ourselves down the turbulent waters of our rivers, or climb the rock faces we stumble upon. It’s an adrenaline rush to be sure, a high on life as they say; but it’s also an act of survival—and of remaining human.

Robin Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University, says “the natural environment is the principle source of sensory stimulation….” “Sensory experiences,” he says, “link [our] exterior world with [our] interior, hidden, affective world.” The outdoor environment is a medium of human connection where, as Moore puts it, the “freedom to explore and play…through the senses…is essential for healthy development….” Dr. Stuart Brown, clinical researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, behooves us in his Ted Talk on the subject to explore our individual histories of play. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself at play, where are you? The open water, a deep forest, a mountain peak, or maybe a field of wildflowers?

In his national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls nature a “reset button.” It is the place where we are reminded of ourselves and our purpose. Australian musician Xavier Rudd sings, “Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge/Remember your place.” It’s often proffered that in a time of industrial expectation and hyper-communication, we need the wild spaces more than ever. There’s some truth to that; but I think I’d go play there anyway, even if it wasn’t to escape the, quote-unquote, “workaday life.” I’m most human when I’m running through a field of blooming wildflowers.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Cedar Breaks, Plan Your Visit, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/planyourvisit/index.htm

Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Neoteny, Reference Terms, ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/neoteny.htm

Discovering Honeybees

Discovering Honeybees: Bee Approaching Sunflower Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Bee Approaching Sunflower
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
I was a bit surprised when I met a local beekeeper who insisted she’d never eat any honey except that produced by bees in the mountains above Cache Valley. It made sense that the taste of honey would be determined by the flowers where the bees collected nectar and pollen. It turns out the Forest Service issues permits to local beekeepers to put hives around Tony Grove

Wanting to know more, I dropped into the Honeyland store in Cache Valley and was soon mesmerized by the active cut-away hive on display. It was a teacher’s dream come true – hundreds of bees – all diligently on task. Wide-eyed, I watched as a bee flew in at the bottom of the screen through a tunnel under the window looking very much like a bike rider with two full paniers She deposited the full sacks of pollen and then she began to dance. This took me quickly to the internet to learn more.. The bees dance is called a “waggle dance” – a straight line calibrated to communicate how far away the food source is, and a circular return arc to orient the path to the food. The waggle dancing bee can direct her sisters to a food source up to five miles away.

  • It takes 550 worker bees visiting 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey.
  • Top speed for a bee is 15 mph.
  • Each honey bee makes one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

  • I soon returned to the store’s cut away hive and finally found the queen – a bit tricky as she looks like all the others except she’s one and a half times bigger. I watched as she dipped her tail into one hexagonal cell after another. On a good day a queen will lay 2,000 eggs.

    Busy, busy bees working together to set aside enough honey to feed themselves during the winter.

    The poet Dick Paetzke once called honey “the soul of a field of flowers”

    Mountain honey looks and tastes a little different than honey made by bees pollinating Cache Valley alfalfa. Both are incredibly delicious.

    Aristotle got it right: “Honey is the nectar of the gods.”

    This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
    Text: Mary Heers

    Sources & Additional Reading


    Burlew, Rusty, Honeybee Suite, https://honeybeesuite.com/

    Honeybee, National Geographic Kids, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/h/honeybee/

    About The Honeybee, American Beekeeping Federation, https://www.abfnet.org/page/71

    Utah Beekeepers Association, http://www.utahbeekeepers.com/

    Moab Bee Inspired Gardens, Utah State University, http://beeinspired.usu.edu/about/