From playgrounds and state parks to pastureland and row crops, Mosaic reclaims and returns every acre of mined land to productive use. But the initial approval of the conceptual reclamation plan to the final, government-approved release takes years. And for good reason: reclamation helps restore habitats, supports the growth of native crops, limits the presence of invasive species and ultimately prepares the land to be self-sufficient for whatever its next use may be.

On May 9, the Hardee County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the release of 1,471 acres of Mosaic land split between Fort Green and Payne Creek Mine Extension and Fort Green Southern Reserves. This is usually the last step in the process before the land can be returned to productive use, according to Gary Blitch, Mosaic’s Senior Manager, Reclamation.

Prior to the county’s release, the land must meet reclamation requirements from multiple government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Counties are the last step in the approval process because each has its own set of requirements.

“The state has mandatory reclamation requirements. In 1975, a law passed that requires every acre of mined land to be reclaimed,” Blitch said. “Each habitat type has specific standards that must be met before the state signs off on the release. With regards to wetlands, we reclaim all of them on an acre-for-acre, type-for-type basis, based on what existed in the landscape prior to mining.”

Every acre of mined land is reclaimed. Before mining begins, conceptual reclamation plans are approved.

Initial reclamation concepts are submitted before mining even begins. In fact, the reclamation plan for Fort Green was submitted back in 1982. Because the process is so detailed, Mosaic has a dedicated team of ecologists, reclamation supervisors, reclamation field coordinators and reclamation compliance specialists who work diligently to give formerly mined land a new lease on life.

“Once we’ve achieved all the reclamation, we hand it over to the land management team,” Blitch said. “Land management then does an analysis to determine the highest and best use for the land and then develops a plan to capture value for the company from it.”

Acre By Acre

Mosaic Ecologist Ashlee Harrison and Reclamation Supervisor Keith Hancock spend a lot of time in the field. Managing more than 150,000 acres combined, Harrison and Hancock are part of the boots-on-the-ground team that brings reclamation plans to life.
“We do a lot of maintenance,” Hancock said. “Things like tree planting and herbicide maintenance to bring these areas up to standard.”

The recently released parcels in Hardee County are made up of different land classifications, including wetlands, pastureland, uplands and more. Each has a set of requirements that must be met before being released. In some reclaimed areas, Mosaic grows sod and citrus; another post-mined area was used to build Streamsong Resort, a premier golfing destination in Polk County.

Mosaic ecologists like Ashlee Harrison work to make sure each acre of land will meet reclamation standards prior to release.

Regardless of the land use, Hancock and Harrison visit the area multiple times to make sure every acre meets the reclamation and release standards. These visits often include representatives from the counties and other agencies responsible for approving the release. Mosaic’s team must track evolving requirements, as areas close in proximity may have been permitted at different times and are subject to different requirements. This can include even further reducing the amounts of exotics or invasive species allowed in a certain area, adding conservation easements for wetlands or even increasing the amount of tree coverage provided.

“That’s where our jobs come in,” Harrison said. “We work with many other departments to successfully achieve the required criteria. The collaboration between teams is very important.”

And there’s always work to be done.

“We typically get approval of approximately 2,000 to 3,000 acres each year,” Blitch said. “It really takes a team, from the folks handling the earth work and the surveyors to the engineers designing the reclamation and the ecologists meeting the land use targets. It’s hundreds of people’s boots on the ground over a blueprint.”

The Florida Fishing Trail is an example of reclaimed land that also benefits the environment. The catch-and-release fishing destination will be located in Hardee County.

Laura Morris, Mosaic Superintendent, Permitting and Reclamation Compliance, knows how much the reclamation team must juggle to get the job done. And, she said, the land is still important and usable during the reclamation process before release.

“Even though an agency hasn’t released something, that doesn’t mean the land doesn’t have value during that time,” Morris said. “A lot of people see it as unreleased land with zero value, but that’s completely untrue.”

Wildlife benefits from the new habitats being created; water quality improves in watersheds as plants become established. And soil improves as new plants take root and begin developing the organic profile of the soil.

Enjoyed for Generations

Some reclaimed and post-mined locations that are available for the public to enjoy include Hardee Lakes Park, a 1,260-acre site that offers bank and boat fishing, camping and an observation tower; Alafia River State Park, a post-mined land use that is home to 20 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails; Bunker Hill Park, which is equipped with baseball and soccer fields and a playground; and Tenoroc Fish Management Area, which provides refuge for wildlife and 10-plus miles of hiking trails.

Additional reclaimed land continues to be planned for future use, including the Florida Fishing Trail. Encompassing multiple freshwater lakes and more than 260 acres of reclaimed land, this catch-and-release fishing destination will help promote healthy, freshwater fish populations in Florida.

And it’s all made possible by those dedicated to helping our lands thrive.