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Using biochar to restore mine sites and rangelands

Status: 
Action
Dates: 
June, 2015

Native grass planting in biochar remediated soil near Ely, NV.
Native grass planting in biochar remediated soil near Ely, NV.
Many range and mine land sites are degraded because of disturbance and overgrazing. Researchers and managers are reducing wildfire hazard by removing woody material from overgrown forests, which they then convert into biochar (made by burning woody material in the absence of oxygen) for use as a soil amendment on degraded lands.

Findings from this research show that land managers can use waste wood normally burned in slash piles to: (1) reduce slash pile burning impacts on the soil and reduce smoke and particulate emissions, (2) make biochar to ameliorate soil to restore productivity and hydrologic function, and (3) restore native vegetation for improved pollinator and wildlife habitat. 

Approach

Biochar, biosolids, and wood chips were applied alone or in combination on an abandoned mine site near Baker City, Oregon. Biochar alone was applied on degraded rangeland near Ely, Nevada.

Both sites were seeded (with a native seed mix) or planted with two species of native grasses.

This research will continue for approximately 3-5 years to determine the longer-term impacts of biochar additions on different soil textures, climatic regimes, and plant species.

Biochar and wood chips were applied by hand to an abandoned mine site near Baker City, OR.
Biochar and wood chips were applied by hand to an abandoned mine site near Baker City, OR.

Key Findings

  • Water holding capacity increased after biochar application (with or without other organic amendments) on the abandoned mine site and degraded rangeland, making the sites more resilient from drought and flooding.

  • Carbon was sequestered on both sites, helping to mitigate climate change.

  • Biochar increased the number and diversity of planted or seeded forbs and grasses.

  • Biochar reduced the amount of nutrients leaching through the soil profile. 

Related Projects 



Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Collaborators:
Jim Archuleta - Umatilla National Forest
Hugo Magana - Umatilla National Forest
Joy Archuleta - Umatilla National Forest
Monica Ott - University of Idaho
Dan Strawn - University of Idaho
Jim Hurja - Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
Julie Thompso - Eastern Nevada Lands Coalition

Research Staff:
Funding Contributors:
Biomass Research Development Initiative -- Department of Energy