What Is Land Rehabilitation?

Land rehabilitation is a process of restoration to bring an area of land back to its natural state after it has been damaged or degraded, making it safe for wildlife and flora as well as humans. Land rehabilitation is often carried out in response to a man-made (i.e. agricultural or industrial) degradation of land.

Land rehabilitation is differentiated from land reclamation, which refers to altering existing ecosystems to make way for cultivation or construction, often by creating new land from river beds, lake beds, and oceans.

Key Takeaways

  • Land rehabilitation involves improving poor-quality land and bringing it back to its original state so it is suitable for animals and plant life, and human activity.
  • This process is often utilized to revitalize land after it has been heavily used in agriculture or industry, or in the aftermath of a natural or manmade disaster.
  • Several heavily polluted or toxic sites have been successfully rehabilitated through various abatement and restoration efforts, although the process can be quite expensive and labor-intensive.

Understanding Land Rehabilitation

Although land rehabilitation is most often used to rectify problems caused by man-made processes such as mining, drilling, construction, farming, and forestry it is also used to restore damage caused by pollution, deforestation, salination, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, and flooding. Climate change also contributes to land rehabilitation concerns.

Land rehabilitation techniques can be used to speed up the amount of time necessary to restore the location to back to its original state. Rehabilitation practices include removing man-made structures, toxins, and other dangerous substances, improving soil conditions, and adding new flora.

The demand for reclamation and rehabilitation has increased during the last few decades as resource firms become increasingly environmentally conscious and new environmental-protection laws are introduced. However, rehabilitation can be a very costly process, especially if there is a toxic cleanup involved.

Land rehabilitation efforts rely on the efforts of engineers, geologists, toxicologists, public health scientists, and technical support personnel who oversee and conduct investigation, assessment, strategy, and implementation of these sites. An abatement cost is an expense borne by firms or governments when they are required to undertake land rehabilitation, which is a notoriously expensive and time-consuming undertaking.

Land Rehabilitation Success Stories

Measures of success for land rehabilitation efforts vary widely, ranging from oil spill cleanup efforts and wildlife habitat restoration to shoreline and restoration in coastal regions.

The U.S. Department of the Interior charts numerous federal rehabilitation efforts, including:

  • River Restoration Projects in Connecticut, in which settlements at two Superfund sites allowed the Department of the Interior to initiate multiple projects leading to improvements in fish habitats, streamside habitats, and public access.
  • Ongoing restoration efforts after the 1996 Lone Mountain coal slurry spill in Lee County, Virginia endangered the watershed of the region. Through federal and state-level partnerships, the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System has acquired parcels of land in the affected area, and has implemented permanent land preservation, enhancements of the riparian buffer, and streambank stabilization within the Powell River watershed are critically important to sustain water quality and ensure the success of the restored aquatic ecosystem.
  • Restoration of the West Branch of the Grand Calumet River in Indiana. Over a period of several decades, a number of manufacturing facilities and refineries had polluted the Grand Calumet River, prompting nearly $70 million in resource damage settlements. A $33 million project administered by the Environmental Protection Agency was launched in 2010 to remove and cap heavily contaminated sediment along a stretch of the river, and to restore the river shoreline with native grasses, flowers, trees, and shrubs, improving water quality and providing habitat for wildlife and migratory birds.
  • An international major land restoration project, the Kubuqi Ecological Restoration Project, was designed to combat desertification in China‚Äôs Kubuqi desert, south of the Gobi Desert. Launched in the late 1970s, this project sought to stabilize the desert and begin afforestation efforts. In 2000, the Duolun region of China was up to 87 percent desert. As of 2017, nearly 200,000 acres of this desert region is now planted with pine forests, with Duolun claiming 31 percent of the land as forested, and providing significant economic development for the region.