SALMON — A few decades ago, one of the most popular catchphrases came from comedian Jimmy “JJ” Walker’s smiling face as he exclaimed “DY-NO-MITE!” While that was enjoyable for audiences around the country, hearing someone yelling “dynamite” on a wilderness outing would be something else.
But finding a curious cache of weathered explosives is just what happened earlier this spring on Bureau of Land Management administered lands. An off-duty employee from the United States Forest Service discovered the suspicious materials while hiking near Sevenmile Canyon outside of Salmon, Idaho in Lemhi County. This person reported the find to the BLM. Field Staff Ranger Amanda Schramm took the call and, accompanied by the special agent for Eastern Idaho, headed out in response.
Due to inclement weather, the crew had to travel to the remote site using a UTV with snow tracks. They located the reported materials and visually confirmed it to be an ancient case of explosives, possibly up to 100 years old. Upon further inspection, the weathered case contained about 40 sticks of 65-year-old dynamite. The dynamite was partially exposed in a decomposing wooden crate. The weathered case and its contents had remained hidden in a rock outcropping, until the wood disintegrated and fell apart, exposing the contents. Despite the age and exposure to the elements, the dynamite appeared to still be a viable explosive.
Salmon Field Office Geology staff believe the dynamite was most likely left behind following road construction associated with past mining operations. “With the strong mining history in Lemhi County, it is not unusual to discover this sort of thing. Our number one priority is the safety of public land users,” said Salmon Field Office Manager Linda Price.
Because this was no 1970s sitcom and the threat was real, Ranger Schramm then coordinated with the Salmon Field Office, the Forest Service and the Lemhi County Sheriff's Office to complete the disposal of this cache of dynamite. The response was coordinated with management from the BLM and USFS. Based on the weather and remote location involved, specialists decided that a USFS-certified blaster would destroy the explosives.
To remove the potential hazard to public land users, a joint BLM and Forest Service team provided support to the Salmon-Challis National Forest’s certified blaster and explosives specialist to safely render the dynamite inactive. The interagency team created a perimeter around the work area and provided information to people in the surrounding locale to assure that everyone kept away. The Forest Service specialist strategically placed a minimal, but sufficient amount, of explosive material near the dynamite and detonated the charge. With a loud bang, the job was done.
Many questions remain about this unused TNT, mainly related to its possible threat to public safety. However, since the dynamite was cached in a steep, cliffy spot and was only accessible by climbing a steep scree slope, the dynamite did not pose any hazard to the nearest dwelling (about a half-mile away). This specific location also likely prevented anyone previously from finding and/or reporting it.
Some words of advice from BLM Law Enforcement Officer Amanda Schramm: "If you are recreating on public lands and see what you believe to be any type of historic material resembling explosives or hazardous material, please take your observation seriously; do not approach the area more closely once observed. Please report the location of your observation to law enforcement so that we can work with specialists to plan for safe disposal.”
And, as Field Manager Price adds, “It is nice to have the local expertise to handle a situation like this quickly and safely.”