Patoka River NWR is unique in that some of the land added to the refuge was once surface-mined for coal and has since been reclaimed. Coal companies are now required to restore (reclaim) the approximate contours of the land, replace the topsoil, and re-establish vegetative cover on the landscape after removal of the coal. Lands are reclaimed to grasses, forests, wetlands, and cropland. Because of the compaction of the soil, it often takes many years for the soil to regain its fertility. However, grasses and some flowering plants do very well on these sites.
As a result, the refuge has acquired over 300 acres of grassland that provide nesting habitat for bird species including the eastern meadowlark, Henslow’s sparrow and grasshopper sparrow. The refuge manages these grasslands using a variety of techniques to remove non-native vegetation and replace it with native grasses and flowering plants adapted to the local conditions. Over time, the refuge may be able to add over 1,500 acres of grassland as land becomes available.