MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center prepares units within the military branches in the realms of conducting operations in cold weather and high-elevation environments. It is unlike any other Marine Corps base in the world.
The 60,000 acres of training land is owned by the forest service and provides units with cold-weather and mountainous terrain they may encounter overseas. In order to continue training in the vastly diverse training area, the MCMWTC personnel work with the California Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make environmental protection one of their top priorities.
THE ENVIRONMENT & THE PUBLIC
The base the natural resources, water and air quality, erosion, vegetation and how it is affected by training. Their dedication to the environment maintains the land for future mountain exercises, as well as public use.
“The forest service that we’re in is about a million acres and we’re on 60,000 of those acres,” said Andrew M. Irvin, natural resources manager, MCMWTC. “You look on some forest service websites and it’ll say, ‘the Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area is open to snowmobiling, back country skiing and ice-fishing.’ It’s a multifunctional area.”
The vast mountain ranges are a great destination for hikers, campers and fisherman. The West Walker River, which runs through a large portion of the training areas, is one of the top rated fly-fishing spots in the world.
“It’s world class,” Irvin said. “People come from all over the world. Marines aren’t allowed to fish without the proper licensing.”
The base uses monitoring wells to track nitrate levels and any contamination in their rivers. They also have a water treatment center that discharges into a drain field in order to keep the rivers clean.
On land, the environment is home to more than 100 species of animals and plants. The California Fish and Game counts the number of animals within each acre to track any changes in counts or migration to certain areas.
“What’s unique about this place is we don’t have the protection that other bases have where they have their integrated natural resources management plans that can keep fish and wildlife away from their training areas,” said Melanie L. Bengtson, environmental director, MCMWTC.
In addition to the California Fish and Game’s count, the MCMWTC’s environmental office also conducts their own research into the wildlife and vegetation.
“The funding is coming from the Marine Corps,” Irvin said. “These projects are for our knowledge and to better manage our resources.”
To add to the safety measures already in place, units are briefed on the environmental aspects and procedures they must follow. Instructors are trained up on environmental safety and oversee units during their training in the mountains.
“What the instructors try to emphasize [to training units] is leave no trace,” Bengtson said. “It makes sense tactically, not to let the enemy know where you’ve been.”
Gathering their gear, trash and brass from the blank rounds they fire is environmentally sound and a big part of their training.
Marines taking the survival schools taught at the training center are given permission by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via the California Fish and Game to fish on the training areas. However, their experience in the water is far from recreational.
“They’re not given a rod, reel and bait,” Irvin said. “They actually have to us shoe string or whatever they can find to catch food. But they are licensed to fish in those creeks and keep whatever they catch.”
The environmental office of the MCMWTC is kept busy maintaining the 60,000 acres of land and the units that train on it. They continue to develop its Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan as they continue to survey the land and animals.
“We’re not just doing this for the forest service’s benefit,” Bengston said. “We’re doing it because it benefits us.”