Reclamation is the restoration of equivalent productivity to natural areas damaged through processes such as erosion, mining, flooding, or commercial development. Reclamation specialists identify contaminated areas, develop reclamation plans, and inspect, monitor, and evaluate reclamation projects. They also provide direction to clients to ensure compliance with applicable federal and provincial environmental regulations.
Imagine you are standing in the tall green grass of a farmer's pasture, admiring the lush vegetation that signifies productive soil. You are a reclamation specialist and this farmer's pasture was the site of one of your biggest projects. An abandoned mine used to sit at the foot of this field, and the pile of waste rock generated during the mining operation was producing acid rock drainage. The pH of the soil in the area was too low to grow any grass or crops, and there were concerns that contaminants were leaking into groundwater aquifers. You were called in to manage a project that would clean up the rock pile and other mine remains to improve soil conditions and protect the watershed.
As a reclamation specialist, you have worked on projects like this one at sites all over the province and know the kinds of information needed to develop a reclamation plan. For the farmer's pasture, you started by researching the site's history: aside from the mine, what else had the land been used for? Knowing the site's history made it easier to identify potential contaminants. Once you knew what kinds of contaminants to look for, you identified potential pollution pathways these contaminants might travel within the environment. For example, you wanted to know if they were leachable or water-soluble, or if they vaporized easily into the air. You used this information to develop a reclamation plan that included strategies for removing pollutants, sampling protocols for monitoring the process, and procedures for restoring the site after the contaminants were removed.
After the provincially appointed reclamation committee approved your plan, you implemented it, including hiring contractors and managing supplies. Poor-quality trees were removed from the site so graders could contour the land, and agricultural limestone was applied to the waste rock to neutralize the acid. The soil was then fertilized, seeded, and mulched to restore nutrients and balance pH and other elements. You researched and managed this project for months, but it is all worth it when you see the results and know your work has improved soil conditions and protected the area's groundwater sources.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a reclamation specialist:
Reclamation specialists work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places reclamation specialists can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as a reclamation specialist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a reclamation specialist is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a reclamation specialist, the following programs are most applicable:
There is no certification available that is specific to reclamation specialists, though many reclamation specialists choose to be certified as professional engineers, geoscientists, biologists, agrologists, technicians, or environmental practitioners.
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Cameron Faminow cites the combination of his ranching and farming background with his experience in the oil and gas industry as the main reason he is an effective environmental consultant. “People in this industry use jargon, which can be quite confusing and confounding.” Due to his combined experience, Cameron doesn’t have any problems translating this jargon. Today, he is the president and senior environmental planner of his own environmental consulting company.
Spending much of his time on reclamation projects, Cameron works both before and after a development project is complete. “The term ‘reclamation’ is similar to the term ‘environment’ in that it encompasses so many components…there are very few activities in any industry that do not have a reclamation component.” Prior to a development project, he does “front end” work, such as gathering the baseline data that will facilitate the return of the site to its preconstruction condition. “Ultimately, facilities will be abandoned, so the more we know prior to construction, the better we can reclaim the site,” he explains. Cameron’s “back end” work involves investigating sites that may still have reclamation issues.
Through literature searches and field investigations, Cameron determines what the land was used for and what pollutants may still remain at the site. After reclamation, the sites “should have the same agricultural or environmental capability as they did prior to development.” One of the highlights of Cameron’s work is the number of opportunities currently available to him. “Right now, there’s no shortage of work in all facets of the environmental industry, particularly in the reclamation sector.” He also enjoys the dynamic nature of his job, and the fact that a reclamation specialist’s role is “to create a win-win-win scenario, where industry, the environment, and landowners all win.”