With thousand of acres mined over the years in Central Appalachia, establishing constructive uses for former mine sites has been a slow process. An effort by Coal Country Beeworks has put into practice what they call apiforestation, or “reclaiming coal mine lands by planting honey trees, shrubs and vegetation.”
Appalachia was once home to rich bee populations, which thrived in the diverse tree habitat of the region. The 1980s, however, brought devastating infestation of tracheal and varroa mites that wiped out much of the region’s bees. Coal Country Beeworks, a project of Eastern Kentucky University’s Eastern Kentucky Environmental Research Institute, aims to reintroduce mite-resistant bees by creating ‘genetic islands’ on reclaimed mine sites, planting trees and shrubs that will provide viable habitat for the bees. Research efforts are underway to establish a Queen Production Program, which would allow for beekeepers to breed bees that are particularly well suited for the region and expand beekeeping operations. The Coal Country Beeworks team aims to enhance rural economic development options by providing the resources necessary to nurture apiary production, while simultaneously promoting reforestation of former mine sites.
One of Coal Country Beework’s key partners in the effort has been the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), an effort to improve upon traditional post-mining practices to promote restoring forests on surface mined lands. With over 33,000 of reclaimed mine land made available, ARRI and Coal Country Beeworks hope to create significant economic opportunities by supporting the development of Appalachian apiaries and well-managed timber resources.
Across the United States, bee populations are being threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder—scientists are still trying to understand what causes entire bee colonies to disappear abruptly, and how to manage this increasingly devastating problem. The efforts of Coal Country Beeworks and partners represent a concrete step towards ensuring the longterm survival of Appalachian bees, whose pollination services are indispensable for agricultural crops and plant-life throughout the region. Dr. Tammy Horn, an active member of the Coal Country Beeworks project since January 2008, has written that “Promoting genetic diversity of honey bees and providing safe environments are crucial steps toward future sustainable agriculture.”