Wilderness Areas on the border? What a great idea if you are a cartel drug smugglerby Hugh Holub on May. 21, 2011, under border issues, border patrol, drug smuggling, endangered species act, environment water and energy, headline news, politics
From the Las Cruces Sun May 19, 2011:
By Diana M. Alba DALBA@LCSUN-NEWS.COM
Posted: 05/19/2011 10:40:39 PM MDT
LAS CRUCES – A bill to designate wilderness on public lands, including in the Organ Mountains, was re-introduced Thursday in Congress, New Mexico’s senators announced.
The legislation, S. 1024, has a different title but is the same version of a Do a Ana County wilderness bill that expired in the waning days of the 111th Congress last December, said Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., also is sponsoring the most recent legislation, which would create some 241,000 acres of wilderness and another 100,000 acres of national conservation area in Do a Ana County.
Currently no wilderness exists in the county.
Las Cruces resident Greg Lennes said he supports the bill because it would protect the Organ Mountains, as well as other wildlands of the county, which would increase tourism.
“The reason I moved here was partly because of the beauty of the Organ Mountains, and we really need to preserve them,” he said. “It’s a really well-crafted piece of legislation.”
A debate about creating wilderness areas in the county has been ongoing since 2005, when an initial proposal cropped up. It centers upon areas that have been managed since the ’80s and early ’90s as temporary wilderness.
Wilderness is the highest level of protection granted in the public lands system. It prohibits the use of most mechanized vehicles, but allows grazing, hunting, hiking and camping.
Conservation groups and outdoor enthusiasts have heavily supported the proposal.
Most ranchers, however, fear that wilderness designations would restrict their ability to manage ranches, through increased regulation. Also, off-road vehicle enthusiasts have expressed concerns that the designations would close off lands now open to their sport.
The chairman for a ranching group opposing wilderness, Jerry Schickedanz, repeated a stance ranchers have stated previously.
“We’re not opposed to land preservation, but we feel there are other ways to preserve the land than pure wilderness,” said Schickedanz, who heads People for Preserving Our Western Heritage.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., also has opposed wilderness designations in the past. His spokesman, Eric Layer, said Thursday the congressman believes that “conservation is important and shares the goals of preserving our natural heritage, but in this case the wilderness designation is far beyond what the (U.S. Bureau of Land Management) has recommended.”
Press Release from Senators Bingaman and Udall May 19, 2011::
….As before, the bill also contains the modifications developed with the Border Patrol to enhance the flexibility of Border Patrol and law enforcement to operate in the border area above and beyond existing law. Because of the way the West Potrillos Wilderness Study Area boundary was originally drawn by the Reagan Administration, the Border Patrol has a buffer of only 1/3 of a mile from the international border and is currently limited in its ability to conduct routine vehicle patrols north of Highway 9.
The bill introduced today expands this buffer to a total of 5 miles – 3 miles of non-wilderness buffer area and an additional 2-mile “Restricted Use Area.” This area would prohibit motorized access by the general public, but it will permit the Border Patrol to conduct routine patrols and construct communication and surveillance infrastructure as it would on regular multiple-use land. The bill proposes to un-designate over 30,000 acres of land currently designated as wilderness study area. Here is a link to maps that show the current Wilderness Study Area as compared to the new proposal.
In addition to the nearly five mile buffer, the new proposal also provides an east-west route for Border Patrol to travel between the Potrillo Mountains Wilderness. And it underscores current law by expressly stating that the wilderness designation does not affect Border Patrol’s ability to conduct overflights above the wilderness areas or other border security activities in the wilderness areas, including the use of motorized vehicles while in pursuit of a suspect. The commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who oversees Border Patrol, wrote a letter last year in strong support of the strengthened proposal. In the letter Commissioner Alan Bersin states that the bill, as modified, “would significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate in this border area.”
“While illegal activity is very low near the Potrillo Mountains because of the rough terrain, I remain convinced the 1/3-mile buffer is insufficient for the Border Patrol and law enforcement to adequately operate in this border area,” Bingaman said. “This bill not only enhances our border security flexibility in the area, it also benefits the quality of life in the region by protecting its iconic landscapes.”
“This bill strikes the right balance between securing our border and protecting treasured landscapes like the Organ Mountains for generations to come,” Udall said. “I’m proud to once again join with Senator Bingaman in introducing this important legislation.”
COMMENT: Southern Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva has been trying to get a Wilderness Area declared on the Arizona-Mexico border west of Nogales called the Tumacacori Highlands Wildnerness Area.
This from ArizonaWild.org:
The Tumacacori Highlands harbor a greater diversity of plants and animals that most entire states across the continental U.S. Home to rare and sensitive species such as the five-stripped sparrow, gray hawk, Chiricahua leopard frog, and Mexican vine snake, the Highlands are an ecological treasure long recognized as an area deserving of wilderness protection.
In 2004, AWC helped kick off the Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness Initiative, which eventually made its way to Congress as a part of Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s (AZ-08) legislative agenda in the Natural Resources Committee. This balanced initiative, which includes more than 20 access points and shares the support of dozens of local businesses in the Santa Cruz River Valley, has been challenged because of its proximity to the international border. In September of 2010, Rep. Grijalva reintroduced his Tumacacori Highlands bill in order to promote negotiations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition is currently dedicated to helping facilitate agreements with the Department of Homeland Security over how border security efforts may be reconciled with wilderness protection for these deserving lands. We’re hopeful that recent developments concerning border security and natural resource protections provide a pathway for the Tumacacori Highlands to become wilderness, once and for all, in 2011. Read more at http://www.tumacacoriwild.org/
The main problem with designating land along and near the US-Mexico border as a Wilderness Area is it prioritizes land management to protecting the environment and virtually halts any meaningful border enforcement activities.
In the New Mexico bill, at least Bingman and Udall recognize there needs to be some Border Patrol access…three miles…five miles….arbitrary as hell when you look at the actual landscape.
In effect a Wilderness Area designation says it is more important to protect the habitat of the Chiricahua Lepord Frog than stopping illegal aliens and drug smuggglers from entering the United States.
We already have the Pajarito Wilderness Area just west of Nogales which is a major corridor for illegal entry and drug smuggling. The Border Patrol can’t build a fence on that stretch of the border or build roads to get access.
Frank DuBois, who writes The Westerner blog from New Mexico offers this:
I believe the legislation as a stand alone bill would have problems passing the Senate. I’m absolutely positive it will not pass the House. That leaves only one option – an Omnibus Public Lands Bill. They will package this bill with many others and hope they can generate enough support to pass it. Most of the action will probably come next year as the legislative session is closing down and the retiring Bingaman will lobby to get these bills through as part of his legacy.
And that is exactly how the Tumacacori Highland Wilderness Area bill will get enacted…it can never pass as a stand-alone piece of legislation…but if it is glumped together with a bunch of other stuff as Congress tends to do in the wanining days of Congress…anything is possible.
And if you doubt for a second that the environmental agenda is basically to tear down the border fence and open up our borders so jaguars can roam free (and illegal aliens and drug smugglers can pour into the country, read the Western WildWay proposal.
A key strategy in this work recognizes that conservation projects must span state, provincial and national borders, and identify the critical connectivity projects necessary to close the gaps between protected areas within the Western Wildway. Through the Western Wildway Network Initiative, previously called the Spine of the Continent Initiative, we are developing a broad partnership network and have helped our partners conduct scientific analyses to determine the most ecologically important and vulnerable landscapes needing some form of protection. The results of these analyses are our trademark Wildlands Network Designs©, which serve as regional conservation planning maps. These “WNDs” are blueprints for on-the-ground conservation action.
And from the WildLands Network:
Wildlands Network has been a leader in the effort to raise awareness of wildlife corridors fragmentation resulting from the construction of security infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and New Mexico. Wildlands Network and its partners have organized and convened several Border Ecological Symposiums that have brought together a broad range of stakeholders. Together, we have also acted as a founding sponsor of the Without Walls coalition, developed detailed recommendations for placement of security infrastructure, identified cross-border wildlife corridors, and promoted legislation to halt federal exemptions to environmental laws that have allowed wall construction to proceed without public input or review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
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