Cleveland-Cliffs Inc

Cliffs takes a progressive approach to mine land reclamation – planning and providing for future land use opportunities after mining – by actively incorporating it into current mining practices.

Mine closure and reclamation efforts provide the opportunity to share natural areas with our communities and wildlife. Reclaiming natural areas goes beyond just providing access. We understand that we must operate with a goal of returning our sites to an ecologically stable and healthy state after the mine’s productive life. Our formal mining and reclamation plans consider responsible mineral extraction, current and desired landforms, water resources and management, plant and animal life, our neighbors and communities and possible future land users.

Cliffs operates in ways that minimize long-term landscape impacts through reclamation of stockpiles, tailings basins and other mine site features. We strive to exceed the minimum regulatory requirements that govern reclamation of mined lands by creating forested areas, grassy plains, wetlands, water features and other regionally appropriate habitats where possible. We must manage sites responsibly throughout our tenure to enhance the ability for these areas to have productive uses after our mining activities have ceased.


Republic Wetlands

Cliffs is proud of our ecologic and community achievement at the former Republic Mine in Michigan, where reclamation and remediation efforts have created a stunning natural landscape – protected in perpetuity for the enjoyment of the surrounding community and use of regional wildlife. The Republic Wetlands Preserve serves as an excellent example of sequential land use, from an economically beneficial mining operation to flourishing wetlands that are home to a diverse population of birds, reptiles and mammals.

During the mining process, tailing basins act as water filtration systems. Dikes, berms and gravity move water from basin to basin until suspended sediment settles – leaving water, which is then recycled or held in retention ponds. The sediment left behind is a fine, inert sand that, with proper fertilization, and coupled with the topography that encourages water retention, is particularly suitable for wetlands development.

Development of the wetlands began in 1996, under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources. In this process, Cliffs created 615 acres of new wetlands through aerial fertilization and seeding, and planted 60,000 wetland plants and 225,000 wetland trees.

The wetland preserve is divided into three tiers. The upper third of the preserve is exclusively grasslands, unique to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The second tier is forested wetlands with numerous small ponds, streams and overlooks looking down on osprey and eagle nests. Tier three is a large lake with a blue heron rookery, beaver huts, loons and numerous waterfowl. Wolf, coyote, bear and deer are common sightings within the preserve.

The preserve was partially opened to the public in October 2008. Visitors are able to hike, bike and ski throughout the preserve’s 2,300 acres and several miles of trails. The acreage is also being used as a wetland mitigation “bank” to provide compensatory wetlands developed in advance for those unavoidably impacted by ongoing operations at Cliffs’ Tilden and Empire mines.

More information on the Republic Wetlands project is available in a downloadable PDF Project Report.

Empire Mine

Empire Mine, which opened in 1963, was operated by Cleveland-Cliffs until it indefinitely idled in August 2016 due to limited economic ore reserves and the expiration of the Empire Iron Mining Partnership. While Empire Mine has substantial ore resources remaining, accessing the ore would require a substantial investment to remove the overburden.  Cleveland-Cliffs continues to preserve the Empire Mine asset should market conditions and commercial considerations dictate a potential restart of the Empire Mine. 

Through 2019, Cleveland-Cliffs has planted 2.28 million trees in Michigan as part of its reclamation efforts. Reclamation was 90% complete when the Empire Mine indefinitely idled.


Northshore Mine

Northshore Mining coordinated with the Laurentian Vision Partnership to develop a closure vision for the mine pit after operations cease that creates ecologically and aesthetically valuable lakeshore at closure.  This planning exercise helped identify in-pit stockpiling practices for today’s mining operation that will create the landforms that will represent a biologically productive shallow shore zone in what will be a future lake resource when Northshore’s operations cease and the mined area naturally fills with water.

Northshore also recently completed a multi-year project to develop a new several-thousand-foot long permanent outlet channel for a small lake situated adjacent to its tailings basin and which used to drain toward the tailings basin requiring active management of that water.  The new outlet channel provides a long-term method to preserve the natural water levels of the lake without requiring active pumping in perpetuity.

United Taconite

United Taconite worked with the Laurentian Vision Partnership, IRRRB, and local cities to improve stockpile designs to be aesthetically pleasing, mimic natural landscapes and vegetation, reduce noise  and improve erosion control near Virginia and Eveleth. 

Additional work is being pursued to incorporate ecologically viable species that restore stockpiles to a primarily conifer dominated forested area vs. purely a grass-covered region.  This would include salvaging live tree material on United’s property and replanting salvaged trees on the constructed berms (with a preference for conifers).

200 Public Square, Suite 3300, Cleveland. OH 44114-2544 - Phone: 216-694-5700