Mining companies are supposed to "reclaim" the land. This means that, according to law, they are to restore it to equal or better use than before.
What is left atop these MTR sites? As one University of Kentucky biologist described to me, it is the most unproductive ecological environment one could imagine. The soil is compacted blasted rock, not real topsoil. So it doesn't retain water very well. As a result, only drought-resistant species can thrive - which means importing plants from elsewhere in the country and the globe. The tall hardwoods and fertile understory that were once home to the American chestnut, dozens of invertebrates, mosses, mushrooms, ginger, dozens of medicinal plants and herbs...it is all gone and can not return in any conceivable amount of time. Dr. Ben Stout from Wheeling Jesuit University states, "a forest will grow here in a millennium, but it will never be like the ancestral hardwood forest that once stood here."
Some sites are "improved" with an airport strip (how many residents in the coalfields would you guess can afford a private plane?), a prison, a school that had to be closed because of a shifting foundation, a golf course (which can only serve coal company executives), and a Wal-Mart. Improvement is definitely a subjective notion.