Appalachian Beekeepers Create Hives In Onetime Coal Mines


Up a tree-lined trail in Hernshaw, West Virginia, swarms of bees now patrol a mountain once partially broken apart for coal.  It’s been 15 years since the severed West Virginia mountainside produced any of the fossil fuel. Pritchard Mining Company has filled the adjacent valley with rocks, re-sloped the mountain, and new trees and plants.

“Mining for honey” is the new extractive business here, one with no impact on the Kanawha County land. Behind two security gates, seven small hive boxes are surrounded by a short electric wire fence, which helps fend off hungry adversaries of honey producers.

“Our biggest threat is that bear,” Wade Stiltner, state Department of Agriculture apiary inspector, said earlier this month before flipping on the voltage.

The controversial mining method often involves scraping off sides of mountains or literally blowing off their peaks for coal, and filling nearby valleys and streams with the remnants.

For bees, which fly about 2 miles in any direction from their hives, the result seems pretty good: expansive areas that coal companies restored, replanted and relined.

“The stuff we plant in reclamation and restoration, the beekeepers love it,” said Bill Raney, West Virginia Coal Association president.

Since April, West Virginia has test-run its tiny beekeeping operation on one former surface mine. The first year yielded more than 400 pounds of honey, which exceeded expectations and was an easy sell.  The state hopes to expand and offer veterans and displaced miners training, install hives at other mines, and provide honey in schools.

Kentucky provided a formula to follow. The Coal Country Beeworks program, which started in 2008 and uses various coal company partnerships and grants, includes 35 bee boxes at five mine sites and research with Eastern Kentucky University. A transition in leadership, not to mention skunks, bears and a bad winter, cut the hives down from about 80.

“We don’t have to teach appreciation for bees. Many people already have it,” said Tammy Horn, Kentucky state apiarist and former head of Coal Country Beeworks. “And we have unique varietals, which make our honey quite unique.”

Stiltner, a former underground miner himself, said there’s no specific testing of the honey from strip mines, as some environmentalists are urging. But he said nothing is getting into the nectar of the plants, and pesticides aren’t being used.

Due to habitat loss and pesticide use, commercial honeybees and their wild cousins have declined for more than a decade, threatening agricultural production.  The sudden disappearance or death of honeybees, called colony collapse disorder, has exacerbated the problem.  Winter losses have grown to up to 30 percent per year. Mites are also cited as part of the problem.

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $3 million program to help dairy farmers and ranchers in five Midwestern states reseed pastures with plants appealing to both bees and livestock. The problem was also pressing enough that President Barack Obama formed a pollinator task force in June.

In the two Appalachian states dabbling most in mine beekeeping, there’s no shortage of usable sites. Bees don’t take up much space. The fenced-off site in West Virginia is less than 500 square feet, and another nine hives could fit there.

The Associated Press reported in 2010 that more than 345,700 acres had been approved for post-mining uses in eastern Kentucky; only about 1.8 percent was used for commercial, industrial or residential development. Those figures dated to 1999.

In West Virginia, covering about 84,800 acres of 218 mining permits awarded since 2001, only 7 percent was designated for industrial/commercial, public service or residential use.

Federal law requires restoring surface mines to pre-mining conditions. A provision allows exemptions for “higher or better uses,” often used for development projects. Golf courses, an airport, a prison, subdivisions and businesses have been constructed on reclaimed mine sites, though most are used for habitat, forest or pasture lands.

Is The U.S. Still In Afghanistan Because Of Huge Mineral Reserves?

The U.S. has military forces in Afghanistan, though ground troops (temporarily) left Iraq in 2011.  Why are troops still in Afghanistan?

According to, a 2007 United States Geological Service survey appears to have discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself.

Smith states the previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world.

The minerals of Afghanistan, which is nearly the size of Texas, were deposited by the violent collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia over time.  The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began inspecting what mineral resources Afghanistan had after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in the country in 2004. As it turns out, the Afghanistan Geological Survey staff had kept Soviet geological maps and reports up to 50 years old or more that hinted at a geological gold mine.

The USGS learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and prior to that.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment and flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was considered so positive that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using a plane equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were amazing but the results gathered dust for two more years.  In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan.  In 2010, the USGS data attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), which is entrusted with rebuilding Afghanistan.

The Pentagon business development task force also reported the situation to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Pentagon officials said that an analysis at a location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for large lithium deposits – deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.  Lithium is used in batteries to power electronics.

“Afghanistan is a country that is very, very rich in mineral resources,” Jack Medlin, a geologist and program manager of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Afghanistan project, told Live Science.