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?

BishopBorderSecurityBill.pdf31.19 KB


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.

I think we need a different kind of fence like that at overseas locations. 2 rows of chain link 10 feet apart topped with razor wired and the space between planted with land mines. In addition we need to allow a shoot to kill order for tresspassers carrying guns and drug packs. Kill a few and publicize the action and eventually they will get the hint to stay on their side. Once the border is secure announce another "Project Wetback". Round them all up and deport them, then fine every employer that knowingly hired them. Denounce Anchor babies and put legislation in place to grandfalther it back to 1986 and prevent liberals from twisting Amendment 14. Require E-verification & SAVE for everything including public schools. To catch the stragglers, create a crime stoppers program rewarding people for turning in the illegals by handing them 1 month's salary of what that illegal was making thru their ill-gotten job or one month of the illegal's welfare, WIC, Food Stamps and subsidized housing. Any caught here should have a criminal file created that prevents them from ever being allowed to re-enter for the rest of their life.
And as for those politicians that propose Amnesty, throw them over the fence too.

They trried a fence with those sorts of rules in Berlin. It eventually came down.

What a wonder that such compassionate comments were left here anonymously, eh?

Anon of 5/16--

What a novel idea!! Then we can put a similar fence along the Canadian border and underseas nets along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. Then, when we throw over these fences all the people in favor of amnesty, all the anchor babies, all illegals, all the companies that hired illegals in the past or now, all those attending schools who cannot prove their nationalities, create a multi-billlion dolllar crime stoppers program to find the rest who will go over the fence, pretty soon you will have the kind of America you want--mostly white, mostly conservative, and real Americans. Let's hope that when we throw them over the fence, they land on the land mines, huh? What a vision for the future.

Rick Smith

Wilderness designation along the Mexican border is entirely inappropriate. Natural resources can be protected without wilderness designation, and in fact designation is quite harmful to wildlife in most cases. Responsible management is preferable to the hands-off-do-nothing approach of wilderness.

That land is wilderness in name only. Human beings have been living there for 13,000+ years. The area is not "untrammeled" or "pristine". Wouldn't it be better to respect heritage than to impose an a-historical gloss that serves only to degrade natural resources? And in this case, serves to endanger the entire nation?

The area is littered with trash and rife with criminal elements; not just harmless "job seekers" but armed thugs working for drug smuggling cartels. Border Patrol officers and area residents are at extreme risk from lawbreakers who do not care one whit about wilderness and have zero wilderness values.

Only a complete fool would take his or her family camping in what is essentially a war zone. NPS employees are not safe there, either. It is time for a reality check. Parks are nice, but in this day and age border security must come first.

Mike Dubrasich said it perfectly. The only thing I can add is that Kris Eggle, a National Park Service employee, was killed by being innocently caught in the crossfire at Organ Pipe on August 9th, 2002: www [dot] kriseggle [dot] org, just a week short of his 29th birthday. American land should be safe for Americans to tread during the course of their lives, whether on private property or on federally-controlled land. First Kris Eggle, then Rob Krentz, with many others in between victims of vicious crimes. A country's borders should be sovereign, held inviolate against forces, either foreign or domestic, that would knowingly and with malice aforethought, allow such atrocities to be done to people, animals and the land.