Bright green trees, clear blue water, and explosions are what could be found in Cleveland National Forest in Silverado, Calif., from March 21-24, 2017.
U.S. Marines with 1st Marine Logistics Group and U.S. Navy Sailors with Underwater Construction Team Two worked together with the U.S. Forest Service to plan and conduct the demolition of 10 dams in the Cleveland National Forest. The dams were demolished not only to return the land to its natural state and allow fish to thrive in the area, but also to conduct Innovative Readiness Training, which builds mutually beneficial partnerships between local communities and the Department of Defense.
Between 1940 and 1970, dams were constructed throughout Cleveland National Forest in order to conserve water and wildlife. In 2014, due to environmental and safety concerns, the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered the dams to be removed and the land be returned to its natural state. Over the next two years the Marines, Sailors, and Forest Service plan to demolish 30 dams along streams in the Trabuco, Holy Jim, and Silverado Canyons.
Biologists and Forest Service personnel were in the area to help relocate any wildlife to a safe location to protect them from the demolition.
The first explosion sounded on Tuesday evening signaling the demolition of the first dam.
"They want us to use explosives out here. The terrain won't allow us to use heavy equipment to destroy [the dams], so using explosives is the easiest way to get in and get rid of the dams," said Sgt. Cameron Collier, a combat engineer with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st MLG.
Measuring and preparing the explosives can be a long process, but it led to a series of explosions that rang through the valley.
"As soon as the first shot went off everybody was excited," said Collier. "Once everyone got to see the first effect they loved it, and everyone is now ready to keep going. The Marines are performing very well and are learning a lot."
In addition to meeting the needs of the Cleveland National Forest, this training event provides real-world experience for the servicemembers and builds beneficial civil-military partnerships.
"This is extremely good training for us," said Collier. "We are probably one of the first units to be able to come out and do something like this."
Some planning and creativity goes into demolishing the dams as no two dams are alike and the Marines have various kinds of explosives to finish the job.
"All of the dams are going to be blown up in different ways because of their size, shape and what they are made of," said 1st Lt. Alexis Kantaris, a platoon commander with 7th ESB, 1st MLG, and the officer-in-charge of the dam demolition project. "We are going to be using shaped and cratering charges, C4, TNT, and dynamite. We are trying different explosives to see how the dams react to them and to see what works best."
The Forest Service is working to ensure special protection measures are taken for the wildlife in the area. Removing manmade dams in these creeks will create a suitable habitat for endangered and threatened species, will eliminate public safety hazards and restore the natural stream flow.
"The effects on the environment are very minimal," said Collier. "If anything we are helping by allowing the river to flow. The fish out here will be able to go upstream faster and overall the environment will benefit from this."