Surface Mining

Example of mountaintop mine site

Ginseng’s natural range overlaps the rich deposits of coal in the eastern United States. Surface mining for coal is a long-standing practice, and is more common than underground mining in this ecologically rich area.1,2 This process destroys the habitat for the herbaceous understory. At its worst, surface mining converts the landscape, soil composition and profile, alters the hydrology of the area, raises human health concerns, and releases heavy metals into the water system, leaving a rocky landscape in place of a forest, which all but the most vigorous plants are slow to re-colonize. Currently, doctoral candidate in the McGraw lab, Jessica B. Turner, is studying this environmental issue. She is attempting to understand the relationship between surface mining and ginseng conservation in Applachia.


In the map from Appalachian Voices (2008) the comparison between Mountaintop Removal and Poverty is made. The yellow outline, added by the McGraw lab at WVU, represents the eight counties where ~60% of ginseng harvest from the state of West Virginia occurs.4 Ginseng is an important secondary source of income for these areas, but the habitat for ginseng is being greatly reduced.

Mountaintop removal (and valley fill) refers to one method of coal mining in which the overburden is removed from above the coal seam, and typically discarded in the abutting valley. Between 1992 and 2012, according to estimates by the E.P.A., Mountaintop removal mining was responsible for destroying 816,000 acres of forest in southern Appalachia.3 While it is known that mountaintop removal certainly eliminates ginseng populations located on mine sites, the amount of ginseng affected by mountaintop removal remains un-estimated. Additionally, no research has been conducted on ginseng populations surrounding these mining sites. Altered environmental conditions in mining areas, as well as loss of gene flow from ginseng populations formerly located on mine sites, may negatively affect viability of surrounding ginseng populations.


1EIA Coal 2012
2McGraw et al. 2013
3Wickham et al. 2007
4Bailey PhD Dissertation 1999