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Elk and Mountaintop Removal


This is such a weird story. Mountaintop removal is a horrible, nasty, awful thing, one that reshapes an entire region’s geology, some of the oldest mountains in the world, and dumps toxins in the region so that rich coal executives can make the planet uninhabitable in a century, when they will be dead after spending lots of money. But there’s a strange side benefit–these flat grassy areas that pass for reclamation of the mountaintops are perfect for reintroducing elk to Kentucky, which were long since extirpated by white hunters. It’s not the first time that one form of environmental destruction has been salvaged for some other form of environmental preservation–the fact that sites of nuclear destruction, from Chernobyl to the Nevada Test Site, are havens for endangered species because it’s actually far better for these animals to be contaminated with radiation than live near humans is another example.

What I really found strange about the story is that it was presented as basically a positive, downplaying the real extent that mountaintop removal is a catastrophe and talking about it all in terms of the elk and the economic benefits of hunting them. While $300 million a year to the Kentucky economy seems a bit over the top to me, it certainly will bring some, as anyone who has experienced a traffic jam caused by seeing a freaking deer in Cades Cove of Great Smoky Mountains National Park can attest. But even if it does, there is nothing good about mountaintop removal, nothing at all. Except maybe for a silver lining around the elk, which is the slimmest of silver linings since they weren’t even native to eastern Kentucky anyway.

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