Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) is the dominant tree species in many abandoned mine areas of the Rocky Mountains. It is long-lived, and therefore, may act as a long term biological monitor of changes in soil chemistry caused by past mining activity. In this study, laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) was used to analyze individual tree rings of Engelmann spruce for Fe, Zn, Cu, Cd, Mn, Pb and Sr concentrations. Cores were obtained from trees growing in tailings-impacted and control (non-tailings impacted) sites near the Waldorf mine (Waldorf, CO, USA). Zinc, Cu, Fe, Cd, Pb and Sr concentrations remained low and consistent over time in the control tree rings. However, in the tailings impacted cores, concentrations of Zn, Cu, Fe and Cd increase significantly in post-mining rings. In addition, Zn, Cu, Fe, and Cd concentrations in pre-mining rings of both the control and tailings impacted cores are similar, indicating that present day soil concentrations of these elements in the control area are a reasonable estimation of background for this area. Lead and Sr concentrations in control and tailings-impacted rings remained similar and relatively constant through time and are not useful in determining changes in soil chemistry due to past mining activity. ?? 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.