Thursday, December 10, 2009

Threats and Degradation - Border Wilderness

The federal government's border fence has been called the Tortilla Curtain. But in the swamp of border politics, there's a more effective barrier at play, one that filters ideas rather than people. It explains why most Americans still don't fully understand the disaster on our southern border. More than anything, bureaucrats want to convince you of the great job they're doing. If the facts say otherwise, they'll sanitize, sugar-coat and sometimes suppress—which a Utah congressman believes has been the case with two blockbuster studies, 7 and 5 years old, that have never seen daylight, until now. The Bush administration's Department of the Interior did both. They were intended to measure the impacts of illegal immigration and drug-smuggling on Interior Department-managed lands in Arizona. The second study, from 2004, looked at how the open border impacted Sonoran Desert wilderness in southwest Arizona, mainly Organ Pipe. This picture was equally grim—for the land, for endangered species and for the whole concept of border wilderness.The wilderness study in particular was handled oddly. It was presented at a 2004 meeting of a borderlands managers' group of public officials who gather regularly in Tucson to talk about border issues. Fred Patton, one of the study's authors and former chief ranger at Organ Pipe, made the presentation. No one in the room was given a hard copy of the content. Even these hardened public lands officials were taken aback by what they heard. Former Forest Service district ranger Keith Graves, who was at the meeting, remembers Patton saying that if someone asked him whether Organ Pipe was an appropriate place for a national monument today, he'd say no. According to Graves, Patton added the wilderness at Organ Pipe had been so degraded less than 10 percent still met that designation. "We thought this study was going to be great to show the impacts," says Graves, now a liaison between Forest Service and the Secure Border Initiative. "But we never heard about it again." more

And Senator Jeff Bingaman still pushes for 560 square miles of wilderness near our border with Mexico.

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