The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 created the U. S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), whose mission was to enforce a new set of reclamation guidelines that would standardize reclamation practices for the mining industry. Prior to SMCRA, some mining operations practiced “shoot ‘n shove” mining, where overburden was “shot” off the coal seam and “shoved” downhill. Revegetation requirements were minimal and varied from state to state, as there was no national standard. The loose piles of overburden could support tree growth, but they were also highly unstable. As a result, large landslides occurred and created a hazard to public safety. SMCRA addressed this issue by requiring more intense grading. The overburden was used to backfill the mined area to achieve the approximate original contour, but the grading led to severe soil compaction. Native hardwood trees could not tolerate the compaction and competition from aggressive groundcovers, so mining operations moved away from forestry reclamation (i.e. planting trees) to establishing hayland/pasture to meet revegetation requirements. Without management, the pastures were quickly (within 10 years) overcome with invasive, exotic species and resided in a state of arrested succession. Researchers foresaw the unintended consequences of SMCRA and began developing a method of reclamation in the 1980s that would allow both stability and tree growth. By 2004, there were numerous scientific studies supporting what became known as the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA).
The OSMRE created the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) in 2004 to coordinate the implementation of the FRA. After making progress with the active mining industry, ARRI members began to look back at the sites reclaimed under SMCRA that led to their establishment, so called “legacy” mines. Experimental re-reclamation of legacy mines by ARRI members revealed the need for increased scale to stimulate the economic development and environmental improvement Appalachia needed, thus the idea of Green Forests Work was born. Further research laid the groundwork for the modified version of the FRA that we use today.