WHAT IS 'Land Rehabilitation'

Land Rehabilitation is the process of attempting to restore 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.

BREAKING DOWN '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.

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.

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 stream bank stabilization within the Powell River watershed are critically important to sustain water quality and ensure 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’s Kubuqi desert, south of the Gobi Desert. Launched in the late 1970’s, this project sought to stabilize the desert and begin afforestation efforts. In 2000, the Duolon region was up to 87 percent desert. As of 2017, nearly 200,000 acres of this desert region is now planted with pine forests, with Doulon claiming 31 percent of the land as forested, and providing significant economic development for the region.

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