Surface Mining and Reclamation

Lorena Butte mine, near Goldendale, extracting cinder and basalt. Photo credit: Carrie Gillum, WGS.

If you would like to review a Surface Mine Reclamation Permit file, please contact Public Disclosure at For more information about public disclosure, please visit: For agency-wide consistency with the Public Records Act, RCW 42.56, we will no longer be accommodating walk-in requests to the WGS office.

Surface mining reclamation restores vegetation, soil stability, and proper water conditions after mining. Each site will be completed differently depending on the future use and reclamation law. However, the work completed prevents future environmental degradation and prepares the site for its future use.


Hover your mouse over the photo to see 2005 mining and subsequent wetland reclamation in 2013 of the Fjetland sand and gravel pit, near the port of Tacoma. Imagery courtesy of Google Earth.

Good reclamation allows for proper future use and it limits environmental impacts. It is expected that surface miners do what’s called ‘segmental reclamation’, where they restore portions of the mine while other areas continue to be worked. This helps reduce the cost of reclamation at the end of mining. It also restores the site to its ultimate condition much more quickly.

Wetland creation at the former Fjetland sand and gravel pit, near Tacoma.

Home of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was once the Steilacoom sand and gravel pit, one of the nation's largest.

Poor reclamation leads to unusable and unattractive sites. They can create issues well beyond their location, such as muddy water flowing into streams or unstable land.

This unreclaimed site that shall remain nameless has vertical walls and no vegetation.

This site, also nameless, is home to many invasive species, with many areas lacking vegetation and eroding slopes.

What is reclamation?

Geologic resources such as aggregate are limited, and eventually the supply will run out in a mine. What happens to the land and area of the mine after that? This is an important question that is addressed prior to the mine ever opening, whereby the mine operators work with local governments to identify what the mine site will become once it is closed: known as ‘subsequent use’. Once the mine operators and the local governments come to an agreement, WGS works with the mine operator to make sure that the reclamation plan meet the standards of the Surface Mining Act, RCW 78.44. Retired mine sites are commonly converted into forested areas that provide habitat for birds and other animals. Near urban areas, former mines may become city parks with grassy areas and trails for people to enjoy. Some former mine sites are developed, providing additional land for urban growth.

The Chambers Bay Golf Course located in University Place, WA, host of the 2015 U.S. Open, was constructed on a reclaimed gravel mine. The "Ruins" shown above were once used for keeping different sizes of aggregate separate. Photo by Michael D. Martin (Flickr Creative Commons).

Reclamation does not have to wait until the end of a project (RCW 78.44). Sometimes reclamation starts while a mine is in operation. Known as 'segmental reclamation', DNR encourages mine owners to reclaim parts of the mine as they are finished working them. This helps to control erosion, the spread of noxious weeds, and prevent blowing dust. Also, it spreads the cost of reclamation for the mine owner out over time.

Rules, Regulations and Forms Page

What is the Surface Mine Reclamation Program?

The Surface Mine Reclamation Program (SMRP) is part of the Washington Geological Survey within the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The program was created in 1971 after the legislature created the Surface Mining Act.

The SMRP makes sure that all lands and waters within the state are protected and reclaimed after mining is complete. It also provides consistent regulation of both permitted and unpermitted surface mines statewide.

The SMRP monitors surface mines and issue reclamation permits. Monitoring for compliance is usually performed by on-site inspection. Aerial photography is frequently used as well to document mining activity.

When do I need a Surface Mine Reclamation Permit?

The Surface Mining Act requires a surface miners to get a permit when (1) the intent is to be a surface mine or (2) removal of minerals results in:

  • more than three acres of disturbed area
  • mined slopes greater than thirty feet high and steeper than 1.0 foot horizontal to 1.0 foot vertical
  • more than one acre of disturbed area within an eight acre area, from mineral prospecting or exploration activities

Some exemptions to the law include the use of materials or equipment for:

  • on-site construction, road maintenance, landfill construction
  • public safety or restoring the land following a natural disaster
  • removing stockpiles
  • forest or farm road construction or maintenance at the site or on contiguous lands

Who do I contact with questions about mine inspections?

Surface mine reclamation specialists are assigned set geographic areas based on county boundaries. To see the specialist responsible for your county refer to the map below. Please direct any questions about your mining permit and inspections to the reclamation specialist assigned to the county in which the mine is located.

How is compliance with the Surface Mining Act maintained?

Surface Mine Reclamation staff work closely with stakeholders to ensure they are compliant with the Surface Mining Act. Inspections of known mines are performed every one to two years. Inspectors document the progress of mining and reclamation making sure it is consistent with their permit.

If the mine is found to be out of compliance with the law, a notice of correction is issued. Program staff work with the miners to fix the problem. If the miners do not correct the issues, further formal notice is given and enforcement may occur. Penalty for not fixing problems with a site may lead to stop work orders, civil penalties, and (or) fines.

Organizations which can provide technical assistance

All regulatory agencies are required to provide upon request a list of organizations, including private companies, which can provide technical assistance (RCW 43.05.020). This list shall be compiled by the agencies from information submitted by the organizations and shall not constitute an endorsement by an agency of any organization.

If you would like your company or organization to be included or deleted or you need to make corrections to this list, please send information to:

Nikolas Midttun
Washington Geological Survey
MS 47007; Olympia, WA 98504-7007

The following is a partial list of organizations and does not constitute an endorsement by any agency or organization.

Organization Contact Street City Phone Email Website