THE MORE federal regulators examine mountaintop removal mining, the worse it looks.An initial survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted nearly 900 miles of stream buried by valley fills. In West Virginia alone, at least 470 miles of creeks have been covered or approved to be buried.The survey is a conservative estimate, and many miles of buried streams undoubtedly have gone uncounted.The report paints an ugly picture of the devastation wrought by these valley fills - most of which are the result of mountaintop removal."In addition to aquatic habitat losses, terrestrial wildlife habitat losses have been accelerated, surface disturbance once quantified in permit applications by number of acres today can be quantified in terms of square miles," the report said.
"The fills have resulted in the replacement of thousands of acres of deciduous hardwood forest by the herbaceous plant communities favored in most mine reclamation plans."Despite claims by industry representative, burying these streams may cause widespread ecological harm, according to the report. Even the loss of streams that don't flow year-round can affect downstream ecosystems.Once more, we're glad to see federal regulators, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Office of Surface Mining and the Environmental Protection Agency, finally doing their legally mandated jobs.Oversight of state programs has been pitifully weak, and West Virginia has suffered from it.The state has lost at least 470 miles of streams. How many more will be buried before state and federal regulators figure out the price of that loss?