FORT PICKETT, Va. – Soldiers, Marines and members of Fort Pickett’s Directorate of Plans, Training and Security and Directorate of Public Works took part in a special tree felling operation March 19-20, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va.
With coordination and guidance from the Natural Resources Section, Directorate of Public Works, Soldiers from the Fort Eustis-based 74th Engineer Dive Detachment, 33rd Engineer Battalion and Marines from the Camp Lejeune-based 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division participated in felling a number of trees around Fort Pickett.
The operation was designed to refresh basic demolition assembly skills and to train on emplacement and employment of hasty obstacles.
“There are three different areas that Fort Pickett wanted us to fell trees, we’re in the northern-most section” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph R. Wulczynski, platoon sergeant assigned to the 74th Engineer Dive Detachment. “Our goal is to place the charge with just enough explosives to break the tree on itself and fall in just the right direction.”
Engineers were given specific instructions for the safe conduct of this training event by Range Control, Directorate of Plans, Training and Security.
“We’re using a similar configuration to a badest charge, which is used for breaking down barriers,” said Wulczynski. “We’ve identified a few of the larger trees such, with a lot of brush and a lot of branches so that we can bring out some more of the wildlife.”
The two-day event began with engineers from the 74th Engineer Dive Detachment measuring and calculating the required equations for the proper use of a badets charge, a C-4 plastic explosive designed to create obstacles.
“One of the things that we’re getting a lot of benefit from is not necessarily the charges themselves, but the calculations for those charges,” said Wulczynski. “There’s a lot of math that goes into each demolition; you have to really, really scrutinize each equation, especially when you are dealing with limited resources.”
During the day, experienced noncommissioned officers assisted junior enlisted Soldiers with the correct measurements and with the assembly of the explosive charges.
“Getting familiar with the initiating systems and the demolition material itself is a benefit to our Soldiers,” said Wulczynski. “The badest charge is used to create obstacles, in a field expedient method, using trees is totally applicable to something we might need to do overseas.”
They also were able to practice daisy chaining blasting in-line initiators to increase the standoff distance.
“Normal initiator lines are about 300 meters,” said Wulczynski. “We’re taking it out to nearly 1,000 meters—that’s to be safe and to practice linking more than one initiator together.”
The second day the 2nd CEB took over and completed felling the targeted list of overgrown trees using similar techniques.
The purpose of this event was to assist with the development of key wildlife structure and composition by creating early successional habitats. Felling mature trees along field edges creates thickets and soft edge habitat for native wildlife throughout Fort Pickett, while concurrently accomplishing military training objectives using explosives.
“Allowing engineer units to conduct demolitions training on managed tree lines is a unique opportunity which permits Fort Pickett to integrate environmental and natural resource goals with unit training needs,” explained Maj. M. Bryan Wheeler, range operations manager with Fort Pickett’s Directorate of Plans, Training and Security. “In most instances, military training damages native habitats, but in this instance, range operations was able to work with the natural resources division to improve and build habitats.”
A majority of military installations stopped explosive tree felling due to the unsustainably high rate of deforestation, explained Wheeler.
“Doing this type of training outside of a standard range area increases the complexity of the operation; Soldiers have to plan for a dynamic environment with a number of explosive and safety variables when dealing with live timber,” Wheeler said. “This challenges the Soldiers to think beyond the simple ‘arithmetic’ answer of how to fell each tree and to work through real world factors to better prepare them to execute this task during combat operations.”
The area where two or more habitat types, such as forestland and grassland meet is called edge. Edges consist of a mixture of plants and animals from the adjoining habitats, producing a greater overall density of species than is found in either of those single habitats. This increased species diversity is called the “edge-effect” and can provide an abundance of food and cover for many species of wildlife within a relatively small area.
“This is really just a win-win for wildlife and for the installation,” said Brandon T. Martin, natural resources manager with Fort Pickett’s Directorate of Public Works. “It was a perfect marriage between what we’re trying to do here, those trees on their sides create a certain type of habitat over time and cater to the needs of a certain type of wildlife that we’re trying to grow here at Fort Pickett.”
Due to common foresting procedures throughout Virginia, many of the benefits of “edge-effect” are lost. Edges are often left abrupt, lacking width, species diversity and structure that are needed to maintain a healthy natural balance.
“Our hunting program is pretty strong here on post, and these early successional species do so much better in a younger forest,” explained Martin. “We don’t have much of the young forest cover and that’s what were hoping to create with these demolition operations.”
Early successional species include whitetailed deer, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, prarie warblers, cottontail rabbits, Bachmanns’s sparrow, black bear, etc.
Felling of trees and large growth near the edges also allows for the creation of cover thickets and soft edges, which are recommended for areas lacking briar patches and clumps of shrubs or young trees.
“Creating a security cover has so many benefits for the native species,” explained Martin. “Take a whitetail deer for example, a doe will want to take a new fawn and hide it in the this kind of habitat.”
The felled trees left on their sides provide nutrients and cover for small habitats to emerge. In addition, those trees will re-sprout in a few months and provide necessary cover and food for wildlife at lower heights.
“We almost have too much mature forest at Fort Pickett and we’ve worked really hard to open up space for units to train and to maneuver,” said Martin. “We have an abundance of mature trees here, but that’s not necessarily the ideal situation; we don’t really have any young trees– this demolition is really going to help create these young trees, every little bit helps.”