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From the ground up; Returning mined land back to nature in Brazil

05/28/2021

Lucas Goes spends his days thinking about trees. As a forest engineer at Alcoa’s Poços de Caldas location in Brazil, he works to return former mine lands returned to a natural state.

Lucas Goes visits the Alcoa nursery, which produces seedlings of native trees for mine rehabilitation and donations to the community.

Lucas Goes visits the Alcoa nursery, which produces seedlings of native trees for mine rehabilitation and donations to the community.

Globally, Alcoa is working to have the amount of mined areas rehabilitated or transferred to other land users to be equal to or more than the land used in our operations (excluding disturbance for long-term infrastructure). The goal is a rolling five-year average ratio of 1:1 or better.

Lucas and his team take a grounds-up approach. From growing seedlings for more than 70 species of native trees for local adaptability to creating a custom rehabilitation plan, Alcoa’s rehabilitation ensures the work takes root and thrives. The rehabilitation method varies by mining area, with the land typically being returned to its pre-mining state using native trees, grasses and other vegetation. If an area was pasture or forest before mining, for example, it will be returned to pasture or forest. For mining land owned by a third party, Lucas and his team work with the landowner to determine the rehabilitation objective.

“Since the 1970s, Alcoa has been a pioneer in mine rehabilitation in Brazil,” said Lucas. “The program has evolved over the years, and today we adopt the most modern techniques to return mined areas to an appropriate biological state. Our program has been internationally recognized by the Brazilian Society of Ecological Restoration (SOBRE).

Alcoa’s land rehabilitation program at its operations in Poços de Caldas, Brazil, serves as an example of the company’s long history of environmental leadership and commitment to protecting precious biodiversity.

The program, which began in the late 1970s, utilizes modern techniques to rehabilitate mined areas to a biological state that meets or exceeds their pre-mined state. Since that work began, the combined rehabilitation work in Pocos de Caldas totals more than 675 hecatares, or the equivalent of more than 675 soccer fields.

Former mining land in the Poços de Caldas region is now mature forest years after rehabilitation.

Former mining land in the Poços de Caldas region is now mature forest years after rehabilitation.

More recently, the team at Pocos has doubled the speed at which they are rehabilitating mined areas. Between 2014 and 2019, an average of 12.3 hectares (30.4 acres) were rehabilitated annually. In 2020, despite the challenges posted by the COVID-19 pandemic, 24.0 hectares (59.3 acres), which is equivalent to about 24 soccer fields, was safely rehabilitated.

A major contributor to the rehabilitation program’s success is the quality of the seedlings produced in our nursery located in the Alcoa Poços de Caldas Environmental Park. On average, the nursery annually produces 100,000 seedlings of 70 species of native trees to ensure greater genetic variability, local adaptability and seedling development.

With the increased rehabilitation rate at Poços de Caldas, more of these native trees will be taking root and returning the land to its natural state more quickly.

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