Restoring abandoned mine land in Colorado

Bombus nevadensis male bumble bee

Bombus nevadensis male bumble bee


Randy Mandel

Technical Lead, Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology
T: +1 303 382 5461

Rehabilitating abandoned mine land and other key sites with site-specific native species, in collaboration with the US Forest Service and Colorado prison inmate employment programs

Legacy of abandoned mines

Colorado’s abundant mineral wealth helped drive regional economic development during the late 1800s but has left a legacy of an estimated 23,000 abandoned mine sites with environmental issues including ecological degradation and low water quality.

Restoring biodiversity and improving water quality

Ramboll’s team has been working for nearly 30 years with the US Forest Service (USFS) White River National Forest (WRNF) on restoration work to reduce ecological risk, stabilize the sites, improve water quality, protect watersheds and enhance pollinator, wildlife, fisheries and avian habitat through increased biodiversity and uplifted ecological functions and services.

Prioritising native and vulnerable species

Native grasses such as the rare and vulnerable whitebristle cottongrass (Eriophorum altaicum var. neogaeum), forbs and woody species that typify each site have been prioritised to restore the land. Programs of seed collection, stratification, germination, cultivation and planting have been used. 

Collaborating with inmate rehabilitation programs

Seed collection has been accomplished in partnership with the WRNF, whereas plant propagation has been achieved primarily through Colorado Correctional Industry (CCI) nursery personnel supplemented with a combination of ecological nurseries. Plant installation has been implemented by the CCI’s inmate fire team with oversight provided by WRNF and Ramboll’s team.

Excellent results

Between 1992 and today the Ramboll team has restored and reclaimed multiple wildland sites, increasing biodiversity and habitat complexity. Over 20,000 native plants have been successfully grown and installed, with over 85% field survival and significant reduction in soil erosion and improvement in water quality. Approximately 20 woody, forb and grass species have been utilized to date.

Most of the project work has been focused on the reclamation of abandoned mine lands. So far, restoration has occurred in Colorado’s Pitkin, Garfield, Rio Blanco, and Summit Counties in support for Coal Basin, Lincoln Creek, Emily Lode, Butterfly Burrell, Warren Lakes, Crooked Creek, Camp Hale and Hope Mine reclamation projects. 

Sustainability facts

  • Increased species richness helps preserve ecological functions and services such as resiliency, biodiversity, and improved habitat, forage and refugia
  • Incorporation of plant species provides increased oxygen and helps sequester carbon dioxide
  • Incorporation of plant materials helps reduce overall nitrates, phosphates and turbidity in water, thereby improving water quality
  • Through the USFS WRNF, environmental education to Colorado Correctional Industries helps reduce reoffending

Sustainable Development Goals addressed

4 Quality education
6 Clean water and sanitation
8 Decent work and economic growth
9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
11 Sustainable cities and communities
13 Climate action
15 Life on land

Project team

Randy Mandel, Sara Copp Franz

Ramboll Group A/S

Ramboll Group A/S
Hannemanns Allé 53
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
Tel:+45 5161 1000
Fax:+45 5161 1001

Danish CVR numbers

Danish CVR numbers

Ramboll Group

Rambøll Danmark

Ramboll Energy

Rambøll Management Consulting

Other sites

Other sites