Mandated uniform topsoil replacement may hinder or prevent compliance with reclamation bond release standards such as canopy cover, aboveground production, shrub density, and diversity. This investigation was conducted at a coal mine in northeastern Wyoming in order to evaluate the relationship between variable topsoil replacement depths of 15, 30, and 56 cm and short-term revegetation success. Vegetation variables of total cover, total vegetation canopy cover, total number of species, and average number of species (based on cover sampling) were determined on both reclaimed and 2 native reference areas (Upland Grass and Breaks Grass) during 2000, 2001, and 2002, with aboveground production being measured in 2002. The highest total number of species encountered based on canopy cover and aboveground production sampling was in the 30-cm reclaimed treatment, many of which were desirable seeded and volunteer perennial grasses and forbs. In 2001, total vegetation cover on the 56-cm reclaimed treatment was significantly greater than on the 15-cm treatment. Comparison of the current study area to a 1991 reclaimed site indicated a consistent general pattern of species establishment. Aboveground production was also higher in the current reclaimed area than in the native reference areas, while total cover and total vegetation cover were lower. Shannon–Wiener H′ values, based on absolute total vegetation canopy cover, were greater in the 30-cm reclaimed treatment; however, a majority of diversity indices indicated that the Breaks Grass native reference area was more diverse than either Upland Grass or Reclaimed sites. From observations made at the North Antelope/Rochelle Mine, a mosaic of different topsoil depths, including the shallow 15- and 30-cm depths as well as the mandated 56-cm depth, creates the broadest range of vegetation response under a standard regime of revegetation practices. Thus, the capacity to replace different thickness of topsoil should be a reclamation practice available to mine operators.
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Vol. 58 • No. 2