Nick Fetty | November 25, 2014
A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University finds that mining can have adverse effects on fish habitats many miles downstream from the mine itself.
The study was published in this week’s issue of the journal Ecological Indicators with funding provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of the study’s focus was on heavy mining areas in the United States, such as the Appalachia region, but also included relatively unstudied areas such as Illinois and Iowa.
Mining occurs in every state for wide range of natural resources from coal and precious metals to sand and salt. While larger rivers are able to dilute the damage caused by mining operations, smaller streams are more susceptible to pollution. These smaller streams often feed into larger watersheds which then affects fish habitats and causes other ecological concerns.
The Northern Appalachian (NAP) ecoregion encompasses most of Illinois and Iowa as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Compared to the Southern Appalachian (SAP) and Temperate Plains (TPL) ecoregions, the NAP ecoregion has the highest density of mines with nearly 40 mines per square kilometer, including 714 mineral mines and 1,041 major coal mines.
The report concluded that “the US has the world’s largest estimated recoverable reserves of coal, and production will increase over the next two decades, suggesting that alteration of stream fish assemblages may intensify in the future.”