How to Identify the Best Returning Land Use Strategy

  • March 22, 2023

Award-Winning closure vision (Okane Archive)

How to Identify the Best Returning Land Use Strategy

A returning land use objective is a strategic goal for returning mined land to a functional state post-closure. When done effectively, returning land use objectives are identified early in the mine lifecycle to drive the activities required to support:

  • Ecological restoration,
  • The return of land access to Traditional land owners/communities in the area, and
  • To ensure the area is physically and chemically stable during post-closure.

As discussed in a previous Conversation on Closure article, there are three complemenentary approaches to returning land use. Often, mine sites require components of all three in the closure plan:

  • Rehabilitation: Returning a mine site to a similar ecological state and/or function to that prior to disturbance. A key focus to this is the soil-plant-atmosphere interface that informs effective revegetation plans.
  • Reclamation: This approach involves the stabilization of the terrain, landscape, and topsoil, and the return of the land to a useful purpose. Integrating long-term socio-economic, cultural, and ecological considerations into a site’s reclamation plan ensure it stays adaptable to current and future needs.
  • Remediation: This approach refers mainly to the management of potential hazards or constituents of concern during closure. The process usually consists of isolating contaminated material in pre-existing tailings storage facilities, placing cover systems over mine rock stockpiles or tailings, and collecting and treating contaminated water.

The mining industry’s responsibility to operate in a socially and environmentally conscious manner makes identifying return land use objectives and strategies an essential part of mine closure planning and a critical piece of the mine lifecycle.

Every mine site is different; there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to determining the best returning land use. What works at one site may not be conceivable, beneficial to the impacted communities, or economically feasible at another. So how do you define the “best” returning land use strategy when there is so much variance between each mine site?

At Okane, we start by closely examining the following factors:

Community Members and Indigenous Rightsholders Input

Those most significantly impacted by mine operations are the communities within the mine’s zone of influence and Indigenous rightsholders whose traditional lands a mine is located upon.

The perspective of these groups should be incorporated into any major decision-making in all phases of the project. Collaboration with these groups is especially important when determining the future state and function of the land post-closure.

Collaborative planning with stakeholders may identify the potential need for a recreational or industrial use of the land at relinquishment. If the returning land use plan includes rehabilitation, community history and Indigenous knowledge is critical to understanding the site-specific vegetation and wildlife corridors.

The input, values, and guidance from these groups will significantly influence the direction for the “best” returning land use option for the site.

Utility of Existing Infrastructure

When identifying returning land use opportunities, it’s essential to consider the existing infrastructure and to look at how it can be used post-closure. Identifying opportunities to repurpose infrastructure can even enhance the asset’s value by extending the lifetime of the infrastructure.

For example, possible uses of mine site infrastructure in post-closure could be solar farms, pumped hydropower storage systems, recreational purposes, tourism, industrial needs, and much more. The possible utility of the infrastructure in post-closure varies from site to site, and is affected by the remoteness of the site.

Habitat, Biodiversity, and Environmental Considerations

Significant consideration to habitat, biodiversity and environmental factors should be incorporated through all phases of the mine lifecycle, but especially during closure planning and in the returning land use strategy. This could include considerations such as how best to align with international biodiversity targets over the next decade, or what impact the returning land use could have on habitat and wildlife if an alternative industrial use is being considered. These are important factors in planning for the “best” returning land use option.

Climate Change Sensitivity

Climate change will continue to affect many regions of the world, many of which are home to active mine sites. Returning land use options should reflect adaptability to multiple climate change scenarios. This is very important as increased rainfall or snowmelt could lead to landforms becoming chemically or physically unstable if they are not adaptable to extreme weather events. Areas that see an increased prevalence of drought due to climate change may experience reduced assimilative capacity of surrounding watersheds. When determining the returning land use strategy, adaptation to the effects of climate change in the immediate and long-term need to be considered.

Narrowing it Down

Once detailed consideration of the above factors has been undertaken, the next step is to identify and prioritize the desired closure objectives. One way to develop closure objectives is to categorize them into assessment themes.  Some examples of these themes include:

  • corporate sustainability commitments;
  • environmental residual risk and liability;
  • resource and reserve optimization;
  • community acceptance;
  • stakeholder acceptance;
  • execution and capital cost; and
  • post-closure operation costs.

Each potential land use is then assessed against the identified closure objectives. Alternatives are evaluated on the basis of not meeting the minimum requirements, meeting the minimum requirements, or exceeding them. The returning land use strategy that meets or exceeds all the closure objectives can be considered the highest value or the “best” returning land use option.

Okane’s Approach

Our team has over 25 years of experience identifying the “best” returning land use strategy based on site-specific needs. Okane’s experienced facilitators lead facilitated, consensus-building Closure Vision workshops where mining company personnel, external community stakeholders come together to define their closure objectives. Our multidisciplinary team are experts in developing and implementing returning land use strategies to meet a Closure Vision.

If you have any questions about our process for developing and evaluating returning land use, or want to get in touch about a current project, don’t hesitate to reach out to us via our contact page, or by email at

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