A tree is planted in soil in Kentucky.
Reforesting Mine Lands A tree is planted at the site of a former surface mine in Knott County, Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson


TNC and Conservation Partners Unite to Reforest a Former Surface Mine in Knott County

Volunteers plant 7,000 trees to benefit wildlife and climate.

Three conservation partners teamed up today to reforest a former surface mine site in Knott County, Kentucky near Hazard. The event brought together TNC, Green Forests Work, and Beam Suntory. Approximately 75 volunteers from Beam Suntory, including President and CEO Greg Hughes and other members of the executive leadership team, planted 7,000 trees.

The 10-acre planting was part of a larger 152-acre restoration project on a site owned by Kentucky River Properties. Green Forests Work was instrumental in expanding the partnership into this new property. The restoration of this formerly mined site was funded by Beam Suntory, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Arbor Day Foundation, and Green Forests Work.

For three years, the partners have worked together to reforest former mine lands in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Together they have removed invasive species, prepared highly compacted soil for planting, planted nearly 250,000 trees, spread approximately 1,300 pounds of seed for native grasses and forbs, and engaged nearly 300 volunteers to connect with nature and create a legacy of forest restoration and climate resiliency.

Prior to the March 19 event, the partners planted approximately 50,000 trees on a 76-acre site in Knox County, part of TNC’s 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest Project. The project, which spans Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, features an innovative conservation approach combining public recreation, sustainable timber harvest, forest carbon markets, and impact investment.

“We are proud to continue our partnership with Green Forests Work and Beam Suntory for a third year to restore healthy native forests on former mine lands in the Appalachian Mountains. Expanding the partnership beyond the Cumberland Forest property means we are promoting reforestation at a greater scale in eastern Kentucky,” said David Phemister, state director for TNC in Kentucky. “The conservation and economic benefits of these restored forests, which include a strong white oak component, are enormous."

The Appalachian Mountains are a critical landscape for biodiversity and climate resiliency. This 2,000-mile mountain range provides a continentally important migratory corridor for plants and animals as the planet warms. In the Central Appalachian coalfields, many former mine lands require reforestation to realize the mountains’ full potential for mitigating the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Reforestation in the region provides local jobs for site preparation and planting, supports future sustainable forestry opportunities, enhances water quality, removes CO2 from the air, and provides food and shelter for wildlife.

Green Forests Work is a nonprofit organization with a mission to reestablish healthy, productive forests on former mine lands. Since 2009, Green Forests Work has planted more than six million trees across more than 10,000 acres in the Appalachian region and beyond.

“By working collaboratively and leveraging funding from the public and private sectors, we’re able to undertake larger and more successful reforestation projects throughout the region,” said Michael French, Director of Green Forests Work. “Partnerships like the one here between Green Forests Work, The Nature Conservancy, the Arbor Day Foundation, Beam Suntory, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other partners are the key to successful conservation and ecological restoration.”

Most of the trees planted were white oaks and shortleaf pines, but approximately 2,000 American chestnut trees were also planted. The American chestnut was completely wiped out by the 1940s due to chestnut blight, a fungal disease native to east Asia. Foresters are trying a new blight-resistant species for these new plantings. It will take time to re-establish this tree species on the eastern Kentucky landscape, but this planting is an important step in trying to restore American chestnuts.

Scientific studies on these three years of planting have demonstrated success not only in establishing new forests but also in establishing wetlands, with thriving populations of frogs, salamanders, and other wildlife on the Cumberland Forest Project. The plantings and wetland establishment are having real and lasting impacts on wildlife and forest connectivity in the Appalachian Mountains.

Beam Suntory, maker of brands such as Jim Beam® and Maker’s Mark® bourbons and El Tesoro™ tequila, made a broad investment in the Cumberland Forest Project site reforestation, including supporting the planting of native grasses and forbs on the former surface mine site. Beam Suntory, TNC, Green Forests Work, and other partners are also working together to advance the goals of the White Oak Initiative. This collaborative, science-based restoration project seeks to stop the decline of white oak forests. Approximately half of the trees planted at the March 19 event were white oak.

"Kentucky is the heartland of our business, and we have a responsibility to give back and gain deeper insights about how we can advance sustainable practices that impact our industry," said Greg Hughes, President and CEO at Beam Suntory. "We’re proud to support flagship programs like the reforestation project, working alongside our partners The Nature Conservancy and Green Forests Work, to help rebuild healthy forests critical to the future of the environment and Central Appalachian community."

As part of the company’s Proof Positive sustainability strategy, the company has made long-term commitments to have a net positive impact on the planet, with its consumers and employees, and within its communities. This includes an ambition to achieve net zero emissions and plant more trees than harvested to make its new barrels by 2030. Since 2021, the company has planted over 435,000 trees globally, of which nearly 250,000 have been planted through its partnership with TNC and Green Forests Work.

About Green Forests Work: Green Forests Work (GFW) was established with a mission to re-establish healthy and productive forests on formerly mined lands in Appalachia by converting reclaimed, non-native grasslands and shrublands into healthy, productive forestland, and a vision to create renewable and sustainable multi-use resources that provide economic opportunities while enhancing the local and global environment. To date, working with funders, conservation partners, contractors, volunteers, and friends, GFW has planted more than 6 million trees on over 10,000 acres in the Appalachian region and beyond. To learn more, please visit greenforestswork.org, or follow us on GFW Facebook, GFW Instagram, and Twitter.

About Beam Suntory: As a world leader in premium spirits, Beam Suntory inspires the brilliance of life by delivering great consumer experiences through its world-class portfolio of brands. Known for its craftsmanship of premium whiskies, including Jim Beam®, Maker’s Mark®, Basil Hayden® and Knob Creek® bourbons; Japanese whiskies, including Yamazaki®, Hakushu®, Hibiki® and Toki™; and leading Scotch brands including Teacher’s, Laphroaig® and Bowmore®, Beam Suntory also produces leading brands such as Courvoisier® cognac, Tres Generaciones®, El Tesoro® and Hornitos® tequila, Roku™ and Sipsmith® gin, Canadian Club® whisky, and is a world leader in ready-to-drink cocktails, with brands like -196 and On The Rocks® Premium Cocktails.

A global company with approximately 6,000 employees in more than 30 countries, one of Beam Suntory’s core values is Growing for Good and through its Proof Positive sustainability strategy, the company has committed to ambitious goals and investments to promote environmental sustainability in its operations, ensure the company has a positive impact on the communities where employees live and work, and programs to educate and inform consumers to make the right personal choices about drinking. Headquartered in New York City, Beam Suntory is a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings Limited of Japan. For more information on Beam Suntory, its brands, and its commitment to social responsibility, please visit www.beamsuntory.com and www.drinksmart.com.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on X.