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Reader Participation Day Bonus Survey: Should Border Security Trump Wilderness, Endangered Species?


The U.S. - Mexico border, along a stretch where the United States has erected a fence in an effort to keep drug runners and illegal aliens from crossing the border. The United States is on the left side of the photo. Border Patrol photo by Gerald L. Nino

Security along the U.S.-Mexico border can be a perilous thing, what with drug runners and illegal aliens sneaking into the country. Many times these incursions occur along lands managed by the National Park Service, places such as Big Bend National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Coronado National Memorial.

On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Doc Hastings, R-Washington, Peter King, R-New York, and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced legislation (attached) that essentially would block the NPS and Interior Department from enforcing The Wilderness Act or the Endangered Species Act along the border if those laws prevented the Border Patrol from doing its job.

The measure is short and to the point:

To prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes.

On public lands of the United States, neither the Secretary of the Interior nor the Secretary of Agriculture may impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of the Secretary of Homeland Security to achieve operational control of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

The Republicans' actions were motivated, in part, by the killing recently of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz, whose assailant was said to have entered and exited the U.S. on federal land through the San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge

"This legislation helps ensure that DOI policies no longer enable dangerous criminals to co-opt federal border lands as their drug trafficking highways," said Rep. Bishop. "What many fail to recognize is that allowing the (U.S. Border Patrol) to apprehend and deter trains of criminal traffickers will not only remedy weaknesses in border security, but also improve the health and vitality of our protected federal lands, which have been severely damaged by years of abuse from drug and human traffickers. National Security and a healthy environment are not mutually exclusive, however with current DOI policies, neither is being accomplished.”

This week's bonus Reader Participation question: Should The Wilderness Act and Endangered Species Act be shelved in the name of border security, or can the Border Patrol accomplish its task without trampling these measures?


Rather than diluting the Wilderness designation, perhaps a better solution would be removing a narrow strip along the border from the Wilderness designation.

The problem I see is that most Wilderness areas to my understanding have buffer zones. Or at least they should. If you take a small strip away it is kind of a pointless act I think. Regardless the last thing I want is an unimproved road traveling all the way along the Rio Grande on the US side in Big Bend NP. We've lost touch with what is most important and honestly I think the Wilderness Act and Endangered Species Act should trump Border Patrol. Border Patrol should be able to come up with new methods to fight illegals. It is a losing battle already with Wilderness and this is just another piece of legislation that will harm it.

The bill is just the latest salvo from a Utah congressman who simply doesn't like wilderness. The Border Patrol is already free to pursue suspects in wilderness areas along the border, using motor vehicles. A memorandum of understanding was adopted in 2006 between the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security governing Border Patrol activities in wilderness areas. Section IV, B, 4 provides: "Nothing in this MOU is intended to prevent CBP-BP agents from exercising existing exigent/emergency authorities to access lands, including authority to conduct motorized off-road pursuit of suspected CBVs [cross-border violators] at any time, including in areas designated or recommended as wilderness..." If another reader can tell us about more recent policies and guidelines, please do.

This isn't an either-or situation.

The problem is that we have anti-immigrant tyeps screaming for a border fence, which have a huge impact on wildlife, but don't do much to improve security. That border fence is an expensive and environmentally destructive monument to our national insecurity.

Real security would come from a) having more feet on the ground, and b) a more transparent legal immigration process. Neither of those need to have a major impact on wildlife.

While it is essential to keep an eye on the nearly ENTIRE country of Mexico, that want's to come to the US, we must do it in ways that are less harmful to our wilderness. Like actually sending illegal's back and monitoring them. Like a tag in the ear or toe, Fish & Game do it...

My understanding is that the Border Patrol does have horseback patrols and does use them in mountainous areas where motor vehicles may be ineffective and possibly destructive to the wilderness setting. They've also got helicopters, which are generally accepted in/over wilderness areas if there are emergency reasons, such as a search and rescue or law enforcement.

As for the first comment about a buffer zone that the Border Patrol can use, they have one. It is known as the Roosevelet easement (or reservation, depending on the reference), and it is a 60 foot wide strip along the border from the Pacific to El Paso set aside for border security. The Border Patrol has carte blanche there.

The Department of Homeland Security also has the unprecedented power of the Real ID Act, which allowed them to waive 36 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, to build border walls.

I think that the comment by George is more on the mark. Certain politicians want to look tough on immigration and bash environmental legislation ahead of the mid-term election. Just as the border wall was an expensive and useless gesture meant to mollify folks who would never see it, this is meant to play to voters who know nothing about the border except what they hear on FOX. The fact that allowing the wanton destruction of federal wildlife refuges will have zero impact on immigration or smuggling is irrelevant to them, so long as they get their names in the paper and get a few more votes.

With the uber-violence in Mexico (I believe there have been 23,000 folks murdered in just the last couple of years), this is no longer just an immigration, "ew, those unclean Mexicans" issue. This is now a serious and quite deadly situation.

I do say the Roosevelt Easement is good enough still, but we can't simply dismiss concerns about our southern border anymore.

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