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Fulbright awardee leads reforestation effort in Australia

Fulbright awardee leads reforestation effort in Australia

Fulbright awardee leads reforestation effort in Australia

From Appalachia to Australia, Chris Barton, forestry professor at the University of Kentucky, has been conducting research related to environmental pollution and the restoration of degraded lands.


Chris Barton, professor in the University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment department of forestry and natural resources, has been conducting research related to environmental pollution and the restoration of degraded lands for more than 20 years. Primarily focused on coal mines in Appalachia, Barton’s research recently expanded to a more global scale.

Barton received a Fulbright U.S. Distinguished Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation award, which supported a six-month stay leading reforestation efforts in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. This prestigious academic exchange program expands and strengthens relationships with citizens of other nations, addressing critical research challenges and promoting international understanding and cooperation.

“By improving our ability to rehabilitate disturbed lands, we create new opportunities for areas that are often considered marginal,” said Barton. “We protect biodiversity, improve environmental quality and contribute sig­nificantly to the development of a sustainable future for these impacted communities.”

With interest growing in climate change mitigation, Barton’s research shifted slightly in recent years to examine how reforestation of disturbed landscapes could improve environmental quality and sequester carbon. His research in Appalachia has resulted in a number of findings that have informed mine rehabilitation policy and led to the development of new restoration techniques and the planting of millions of trees.

Barton then applied for a Fulbright award to test these findings’ transferability to similarly disturbed lands in Eastern Australia.

“Parts of Eastern Australia are similar to Appalachia due to coal mining in the area,” said Barton. “With the devastating bush fires experienced across Australia in previous years and the urgent need to do something ‘now’ to combat climate change, interest in reforestation in Australia has grown substantially. If we could transfer some of our findings in Appalachia to other areas across the globe, it would be vital to mitigating climate change and further protecting the land.”

These international efforts started in 2020 when Green Forests Work, a non-profit focused on tree-planting, began a global experiment to test the transferability of the Forestry Reclamation Approach to other mining regions of the world with the planting of 4,000 trees on a coal mine near Biloela, Australia.

In 2021 and 2022, funds were secured from the Arbor Day Foundation and others for the planting of 230,000 trees in Queensland. Two projects focused on coal mines, Anglo American’s Dawson mine and Glencore’s Collinsville mine. A third project aimed to reforest old pasture for carbon sequestration benefits, and the fourth project reforested riparian areas adjacent to the Fitzroy River in an effort to reduce erosion impacting the Great Barrier Reef.

In March 2023, Barton returned to Queensland to finish planting and do some clean-up on the project that was started in 2021. He and his partners planted 32,750 trees in a little more than three days.

“This is an ongoing partnership,” said Barton. “Our goal, with help from partners like the Arbor Day Foundation, Komatsu, Anglo American, Glencore, the Fitzroy Basin Association and Corporate Carbon, is to scale-up and restore 10,000 hectares over the next 10 years in Australia, which will require the planting of nearly 10 million trees.”

In addition to the environmental impact, Barton anticipates his time abroad impacting his research and teaching.

“The Fulbright scholarship as a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Barton. “As a researcher, I have found it refreshing to explore new opportunities and learn about ecosystems that are very different from those in the US. I am sure that the experiences I have gained will have a positive impact on my research and teaching programs as well as my personal life going forward.”

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The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity. 


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