Conservation partners reforest former mine lands in Bell County

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (WTVQ/PRESS RELEASE) – Three conservation partners teamed up today to reforest a former surface mine site in Bell County, Kentucky. The event brought together The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Green Forests Work, and Beam Suntory. Approximately 30 volunteers from Beam Suntory and partners planted thousands of trees today. A total of 6,000-6,800 trees will be planted by end of day tomorrow.

The site is part of TNC’s 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest Project, which features an innovative conservation approach combining public recreation, sustainable timber harvest, forest carbon markets, and impact investment. The project, which spans Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, contains former mine lands. Reforestation of these sites supports climate resiliency, wildlife habitat, and increases forest connectivity in the continentally important migratory corridor of the Central Appalachians.

“We are grateful to our partners at Green Forests Work and Beam Suntory for their investments in our critical work in the Appalachian Mountains here in eastern Kentucky,” says David Phemister, state director for TNC in Kentucky. “Reforestation is an important conservation strategy and provides economic opportunities for local contractors and communities. And we simply couldn’t pull it off without these great partners.”

Prior to the April 12 event, TNC and Green Forests Work planted nearly 100,000 trees on a 138-acre parcel adjacent to today’s 10-acre planting site. Crews removed invasive species, ripped highly compacted soil to prepare for planting, and sowed 525 pounds of native wildflower and grass seed among the tree plantings. The project will transform open ground dominated by invasive species and poor habitat into a species-rich, shortleaf pine-upland oak woodland habitat. In addition to Beam Suntory’s investment in this work, the U.S. Forest Service, the Arbor Day Foundation, and the Sheldon and Audrey Katz Foundation provided financial support for the project.

Green Forests Work is a nonprofit organization with a mission to reestablish healthy, productive forests on former mine lands. Since 2009, Green Forests Work has helped plant more than 4 million trees across the Appalachian region. In addition to the plantings, Green Forests Work also installed wetlands and vernal pools at the site to benefit amphibians and other wildlife populations, and for research purposes with the University of Kentucky.

“By working collaboratively and leveraging funding from the public and private sectors, we’re able to achieve mutually beneficial goals while undertaking much larger ecological restoration projects throughout the region,” says Michael French, Director of Green Forests Work. “Partnerships like the one here between TNC, GFW, the Arbor Day Foundation, Beam Suntory, the U.S. Forest Service, Kentucky Division of Forestry, and other partners are really the key to successful conservation and restoration.”

Beam Suntory, maker of brands such as Jim Beam® and Maker’s Mark® bourbons and Courvoisier® cognac, made a broad investment in the reforestation, including supporting the planting of native grasses and forbs on the former surface mine site. Beam Suntory, TNC, and other partners are also working together to support the White Oak Initiative. This collaborative, science-based restoration project seeks to stop the decline of white oak forests. Approximately half of the trees planted at the April 12 event were white oak.

“Kentucky is the heartland of our business, and rebuilding healthy forests is critical to the future of the environment and the Central Appalachian community,” says Kim Marotta, Global Vice President, Environmental Sustainability. “Through this event and our broader partnership with TNC we are working to achieve that goal while gaining deeper insight into sustainable practices that impact our industry.”

As part of Beam Suntory’s Proof Positive sustainability strategy, the company has made long-term commitments to support communities, consumers and nature, including an ambition to achieve net zero emissions and plant more trees than are harvested to make barrels for its products by 2030.The company will plant approximately 125,000 trees globally in 2022, of which 75,000 are expected to be possible through its partnership with TNC.

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