Wilderness compromises border security

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This is in response to Mr. Nick Voges’ assertion that Senator Bingaman’s wilderness bill “would make our borders safer” and that the Border Patrol “will have complete – and enhanced – access to patrol the border within the proposed wilderness areas.”

First, let’s start with the law. The Wilderness Act states “there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” The language of the statute is very clear.

The Wilderness Act does make an exception for “emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area.” This language has resulted in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Border Patrol and the land management agencies that permits the Border Patrol to use motorized vehicles while in hot pursuit of a suspect.

For nonemergency actions, such as routine or regular patrol of an area, the MOU says, “CBP-BP agents on foot or on horseback may patrol, or pursue, or apprehend” suspects “off-road at any time.” In other words, they are prevented from using motorized vehicles and mechanized equipment in wilderness areas for routine operations.

Bingaman knows…

Second, let’s turn to Senator Bingaman. His legislation, S.1689, would release more than 16,000 acres of Wilderness Study Area to create a 3-mile corridor “in order to facilitate Border Patrol monitoring and enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border.” It would exclude 8,000 acres in the area to “facilitate enforcement” and to “accommodate border security infrastructure.”

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On June 9 of this year Senator Bingaman introduced revisions to S. 1689, adding two miles of “Restricted-Use Area.” In announcing the revisions Senator Bingaman said, “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.”

Voges supplies a quote from Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero that “We’re still allowed to patrol anywhere…” Now, if Senator Bingaman believed Cordero’s comments were accurate, why did he create the 3-mile corridor in the bill he introduced? If Senator Bingaman felt Cordero’s comments reflected current law and policy, why did he propose to revise his bill to create an additional two miles of buffer so the Border Patrol could “conduct routine patrols” and construct “infrastructure?”

Senator Bingaman knows the quotes from Cordero are inaccurate and has legislated accordingly.

How does that make us safer?

Voges states the Bingaman bill “makes the border safer.”

The majority of the areas under consideration are currently designated wilderness study areas (WSA). In WSAs the Border Patrol can use motorized vehicles to patrol and can use mechanized equipment and develop infrastructure such as communication towers. If those areas are designated wilderness those activities will stop.

I’ve already discussed patrolling so let’s look at equipment. The Border Patrol has an MOU with the Las Cruces office of the Bureau of Land Management concerning the Big Hatchet Peak WSA that has allowed them to place a communication facility on the peak. Then the MOU goes on to state, “In the event Congress deems the Big Hatchet Wilderness Study Area (WSA) as Wilderness, the CBP-BP must remove all communication site equipment as soon as possible.”

So if the WSAs in the Bingaman bill are designated as wilderness, the Border Patrol will no longer be able to conduct routine patrols and will be prohibited from utilizing mechanical equipment or other modern detection devices. So tell me, how does that make us safer?

Trying to compromise

On another issue, Voges says opponents of the bill “will never compromise.” Perhaps he wasn’t aware that People For Preserving Our Western Heritage and other groups have endorsed the compromise put forward by the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has endorsed those provisions of the Bingaman bill that designate wilderness in the Organs, the Robledos and the Las Uvas. They request a different designation in the Potrillos because of border security issues, and a different designation for Broad Canyon because of flood control and other issues.

The opponents have compromised, and I haven’t seen similar movement by the proponents.

Voges says the bill has been “hijacked” and links to a Las Cruces Sun-News editorial that urges Bingaman “to go as far as necessary to ensure that Border Patrol will have complete and unfettered access to all areas along the border before putting the bill up for final action.” Given the facts as presented, and some as-yet unanswered questions on border security and flood control, the Sun-News’ recommendation is a prudent and reasonable caution against haste and potential mistakes.

And since when does raising legitimate questions and proposing reasonable alternatives constitute “hijacking” of legislation? Sounds like good old American democracy to me.

DuBois is a former deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Interior, legislative assistant to Senator Pete V. Domenici and served as the New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture from 1988-2003. He is active in People For Preserving Our Western Heritage.

7 thoughts on “Wilderness compromises border security

  1. All stakeholders have been consulted. Compromises have been made. The bill is ready to go. Only a tiny part of the proposed wilderness area is even near the border. These recent anti-wilderness commentaries are becoming more and more desperate and dishonest. Some people are just ideologically opposed to the very concept of wilderness and they should just admit it, rather than continuing to churn out these inflammatory editorials designed to delude and frighten.

    Wilderness will be great for this area and will end up being a valuable marketing tool for the business community. Look at real estate ads in cities that already have protected lands near them–a property’s proximity to a wilderness area is presented as a benefit! A selling point!

    The bill needs to pass.

  2. If the Border Patrol has to go in on foot or horseback, how much patrolling are they going to be able to do? Seems to me that they must have secure permanent overnight facilities within the wilderness areas.

    And as far as damaging wilderness areas is concerned, the illegal traffickers in drugs and humans do a lot of that. They too are exploiting the wilderness areas for private gain. Only it isn’t THEIR heritage, so I doubt if they give a hoot.

    I attended a conference in Las Cruces on May 11 sponsored by the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, and the pamphlet available at the conference included this statement: “The Chief Ranger at Organ Pipe National Monument, AZ, estimated that by early 2004, illegal aliens and smugglers had created 300 miles of illegal roads and thousands of miles of illegal trails.”

    There seems to be a turf war going on between the US Department of the Interior and the Department of Homeland Security. The DOI is CHARGING the DHS to conduct border patrol operations in designated wilderness areas! $10 million since 2007 and another $50 million was pledged in 2009 for ‘mitigation funds.’ (The DOI claims the patrols cause environmental damage.) In the meantime, nearly 115 TONS of refuse due to illegal traffic was removed from AZ wilderness areas in 2008 alone (statistics from the AZ BLM).

    I’m all for wilderness areas, but the definition of ‘Federally Protected Lands’ needs to be expanded to include protection of American land and American citizens from these illegal traffickers. And the DOI and DHS need to get their collective act together and start cooperating to accomplish that.

  3. In a June letter to Sen. Bingaman, Alan Bersin, Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the U.S Dept. of Homeland Security, thanked the Senator for provisions of the bill concerned with the border area that “would significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to operate in this border area.” Concerning the entire 5-mile buffer zone between proposed wilderness in the Potrillo Mountains area and the U.S.-Mexico border, he states, “CBP could operate motor vehicles, build infrastructure, and carry out other activities as it would on any non-wilderness Bureau of Land Management land.” Moreover, he appreciates “clarification that no provision of the bill would restrict CBP from pursuit of suspects within the wilderness area, including the use of motorized vehicles…clarification that nothing prevents CBP from conducting low-level overflights above the wilderness area…(and) explicit provision to allow the East-West way…to be accessible to CBP and other law enforcement personnel.”

    The Portrillos are very rugged terrain surrounded by much more easily traversed flatlands. Extremely few cases of attempted illegal passage through these mountains have been documented in the past 10 years.

    Sen. Bingaman should be commended for his diligent work with Border Patrol and other law enforcement along the border to craft a bill that not only protects our wild lands, but improves national security.

  4. In 1947 Harry Truman said it best about preserving on Wilderness for the American public:

    “The battle for conservation cannot be limited to the winning of new conquests. Like liberty itself, conservation must be fought for unceasingly to protect earlier victories. There are always plenty of hogs who are trying to get natural resources for their own personal benefit!

    Public lands and parks, our forests and our mineral reserves, are subject to many destructive influences. We have to remain constantly vigilant to prevent raids by those who would selfishly exploit our common heritage for their private gain. Such raids on our natural resources are not examples of enterprise and initiative. They are attempts to take from all the people just for the benefit of a few. ”

    This is typical rough and true Truman talk!

  5. I agree that limiting the access for Border Patrol more than they currently have is not making the border more safe.

  6. DuBois is a longtime shill for the extractive industries in the west. Oil and Gas, Mining, off road vehicles and grazing livestock in the desert have not exactly been kind to us. But DuBois is in their corner all the way. They have access to nearly 98% of the public lands right now, but that other 2% should be ravaged in their minds too.

  7. It is clear that Wilderness designation for the Organ Mountains including Sierra de Las Uvas, Broad Canyon, Robledos and Greater Potrillo Mountain Areas will be a great benefit not only to the community but to the Border Patrol despite the dire warnings and scare tactics outlined in Mr DuBois’ commentary. Wilderness designation for these wilderness areas will actually increase border security by preserving its rugged landscape as a barrier against illegal cross-border activity. Mr. DuBois is simply anti-Wilderness, and no compromise will ever please him!