Wyoming mining company wins award for restoring their closed bentonite mine into habitat for the endangered sage grouse

In July of 2021, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded the 2021 Excellence in Mining Reclamation Award for non-coal to Wyo-Ben Inc. for their excellent work to reclaim a bentonite pit near Thermopolis.

DEQ presents the Excellence in Mining Reclamation Awards to Wyoming coal and noncoal mine operators who demonstrate an achievement in a specific aspect of mine reclamation or for overall performance in meeting reclamation goals.

Wyo-Ben Inc. finished most of the reclamation of Pit 101T in 2013 and completed additional vegetation seeding to the area in 2015 and 2016.

Notably, the company prioritized the protection and restoration of wildlife.

Matt Kunze, DEQ natural resources program supervisor said, “One of the reclamation goals was to establish sagebrush to provide habitat for sage grouse, as an active lek is located in close proximity to the site.

The sagebrush steppe, primary habitat of the greater sage grouse and other species, is about half the size it used to be.

Scientists and engineers across the U.S. are conducting ongoing efforts to restore the habitat, with reclamation of active and abandoned mines at a large component of some of the efforts.

A statement from Wyo-Ben Inc. regarding the reclamation award said, “Wyo-Ben is thrilled to be recipients of the 2021 Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Land Quality Division Reclamation Award. Our mission includes being responsible stewards of the environment and is demonstrated with our drive to be on the forefront of reclamation and environmental stewardship.

The statement recognized the dedicated efforts of Wyo-Ben Inc. employees in making the high-level reclamation achievements possible, particularly noting the accomplishments of two distinguished employees who have unfortunately passed away.

Greg Sweetser was a Wyo-Ben mining supervisor for more than 36 years and saw reclamation as an art form, according to the statement provided by Wyo-Ben.

Greg illustrated this through active participation at the mine sites from the first bucket of topsoil to the final recontoured landscape that speaks of his living legacy in the Big Horn Basin,” the statement said. “Greg constantly pushed the reclamation envelope, bringing forth new ideas.

Matt Call, another committed employee, successfully prioritized the protection of wildlife despite the adjustments such protection caused on the reclamation timeline.

Through his attention to detail, he noticed a Mourning Dove acting as though she were wounded to draw attention from her nest.

According to Wyo-Ben’s statement, Call took quick action to ensure the protection of her nest because he had only two days before the annual no disturbance stipulation expired for the year.

The reclaimed land at Wyo-Ben’s pit 101T will now support many post-mine land uses, particularly serving as an outstanding location for wildlife habitat and livestock grazing.

Photo of sage grouse is courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All other photos are courtesy of Wyo-Ben, Inc.

See Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality website.

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