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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Mountains Into Molehills (for the Week of Oct. 7, 2007)

October 7, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: Is "mountaintop removal" what it sounds like it is?

A.: Yes. It's done by certain mining companies in the Appalachian Mountains. The companies do it to get at coal. They dig out the coal. They truck it off to power plants to burn to make electricity.

The company starts by cutting down all the trees on top of the mountain. Then it blows up the rocks and the soil. Then it bulldozes this away.

After that: No more mountaintop. You can say that, yes, it's been "removed." See the result at Web sites like this one:

At last count, 456 Appalachian mountains have been, for lack of a blander word, beheaded in this way.

What do they do with the mountaintop? They dump it in the valley below. It fills in the valley. It buries any streams there. At least 724 miles of streams have been wrecked that way — equal to a brook that would run from New York to Chicago.

Aldo Leopold, a famous ecologist, suggested that people should "think like a mountain."

What do you think about mountaintop removal?


P.S. Already gone: Some 1.5 million acres of mountaintops. Picture 1.2 million football fields.

Notes: The Web site mentioned, one of many out there (plug "mountaintop removal" into a search engine then stand back), is a student project of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Sources included articles by Erik Reece, University of Kentucky, in Orion magazine,; and by David W. Orr, Oberlin College, Ohio, in American Scientist,;jsessionid=baacMGN5_Wzwql. All about Aldo Leopold: The football-field figure is based on American, not Canadian, football. (Alouettes! Woo! Woo! Oui!)

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at

Kurt Knebusch