In Kentucky, A Prairie Made By Coal
Patrick Angel pulls his pickup truck off a small road in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, and points to a long ridge covered with dried, brown grass.
“If you didn’t know where you were, you'd think you were standing in a prairie land in South Dakota or Wyoming, because it’s all grass,” says Angel, a forester with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM).
This flattened hilltop is what’s left over from mountaintop removal. This is the controversial form of surface mining where the top of a mountain is blown up and shoved into a valley to access a coal seam below.
Many hills in Eastern Kentucky now look exactly like this one—an artificial mesa covered by lespedeza, fescue, and other grasses whose tight roots choke out other plants. As a result, trees won’t grow here.