Trapper Mine | CraigDailyPress.com

Trapper Mine

Powering Craig Station since the 1970's

Janelle O'Dea

For Craig Station to produce its more than 1,300 megawatts of energy each day, it needs coal. It needs a lot of coal.

Half of that coal comes from the Trapper Mine. It opened and began mining coal for its only customer, Craig Station, in 1977. The above ground mine produces between 2 and 2.5 million tons of coal every year.

Four different entities own Trapper: the Salt River Project, a partial government agency and partial co-op; Tri-State Generation and Transmission, a co-op; PacifiCorp, an investor-owned utility and the Platte River Power Authority, a consortium of four municipalities.

Trapper lies south side of Craig Station and hopes to soon expand eastward. Environmental & External Affairs Manager Forrest Luke said they're still exploring the area.

"We don't even know if there is any coal there yet," Luke said.

Currently, Trapper occupies more than 10,000 acres of land within its permit boundaries, and 6,570 acres of land has been mined so far. A total of 4,514 of those acres have been reclaimed.

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Though some may think of coal mining as a dangerous industry, Trapper’s last fatal accident was in 1999. A Trapper employee with more than seven years of blasting experience was attempting to retrieve a misplaced device out of a blast hole when it accidentally detonated.

Coalmines are required by law to reclaim land. It simply means that the mined land must be returned to its original state or better after mining is finished.

Reclamation includes salvaging and replacing all topsoil, providing a diverse seed mix to re-establish forage, assuring the landscape looks close to how it looked before disturbance, protecting wildlife in the area and monitoring effects of land removal on ground and surface water nearby.

In 2002, the mine was recognized as one of the three best examples of mine land reclamation in the country. It was selected from more than 1,400 U.S. coal mines.

Trapper also employs one of the American Society of Mining and Reclamation's reclamationists of the year in 2006, Billy Nicholson.

Trapper also provides Colorado wildlife with water and healthy, reclaimed land. Smaller species found on Trapper's land include the Blue-Winged Teal, Western Kingbirds, badgers, Wyoming ground squirrels, rattlesnakes, turkey vultures and dragonflies.

Big game species include pronghorn, elk and mule deer. Luke said the pronghorn population near the mine has increased over time from zero to several hundred, and the elk population has increased tenfold. Trapper hires an outside consultant to take aerial photos for wildlife monitoring.

Trapper has played a role in conserving the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, according to Luke. The species was nearly listed as endangered more than once within the last decade.

In Northwest Colorado, Trapper's reclamation area is 1 percent of the bird’s habitat, but 18 percent of the leks can be found on reclaimed land. A combination of reclamation success, regional conservation efforts and ongoing research prevented the bird from being listed.

Trapper has also seen increasing numbers of sage grouse, another potentially endangered species, on its reclaimed land.

Luke said the seed mix used to reclaim land contains about 30 different native species of plants, and a company in Utah collects the seed from Colorado.

"From the timing and application of the seed to the depth of how far down it's planted, it's all planned very carefully," Luke said.

Wildlife also finds success on these lands because many species, such as Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, enjoy open areas. But because mature shrubs are difficult to re-establish, they are moved and placed close together for wildlife to use as shelter.

While Trapper spends time and money to focus on wildlife survival and the health of habitats in its mining areas, they're also learning to cope with new regulations coming from the EPA.

"There's a war on coal coming out of the Obama administration," Luke said. "They don't like us, and they want to get rid of coal in this country. I don't think they care about collateral damage."

Luke said although last month's meeting with the EPA showed that the agency wants to be flexible about energy policy, they're still proposing emissions cuts of 30 percent by 2030.

"No matter what flexibility they're talking about, they still have to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent," Luke said. "Where are those going to come from, if not by shutting down a unit at the power plant?"

Graham Roberts, an environmental engineer for Trapper, agrees with Luke.

"For many of the regulations now, the measurable benefit is so small that they have overstepped their bounds a bit," Roberts said. "I feel this is very forced and unneeded."

Roberts and Luke, as well as many others in the coal mining industry, are concerned about the long-term future.

"If you start whittling off pieces of the economy, you'll have a measurable loss that can't be replaced by anything else," Roberts said.

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday

Trapper Mine by the numbers:

$21.8 million in wages and benefits paid to Trapper’s 175 employees in 2013

Between 2 and 2 1/2 million tons of coal mined in one year on 10,382 acres of land

Began mining in 1977

Source: Forrest Luke, Trapper Mine