"Within the federally designated wilderness areas, the interagency disputes have allowed the human and drug smuggling corridors to expand, and, as a result, the entire nation has been put at risk."
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Interior Extorts $$ In Interagency Border Battle
The Border Wilderness Interagency Battle
Mitigation or Extortion?
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
In the drama that passes as national security along the Mexican border, a subplot has found its way into the environmental agenda of federal land management agencies as they interact with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It was first revealed to the American public in a letter from Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano in October 2009 when the secretary revealed the contents of a memorandum of agreement for natural and cultural resource mitigation between CBP and the Department of Interior (DOI).
What the secretary was referring to were the payments being extracted from CBP by the DOI in return for the right to access lands managed by that agency. The Secretary acknowledge the payments, but also defended her agency when she wrote, “The USBP believes that operations are generally functionally equivalent to mitigation.” In other words, if the Border Patrol was allowed full and unencumbered access to those federal lands, the flow of illegals could be reduced and that would serve as real mitigation for those natural resources being devastated on the border.
The Secretary went on to detail some of the so called mitigation payments. That initial summary of mitigation projects funded by CBP totaled nearly $13 million, but there was a disclosure that a deal had actually been made to transfer $50 million!
In a closer look, the demand by DOI reveals that, for the right to perform its mission which includes access and or the installation of such things as repeater towers and other high tech surveillance equipment placement, the CBP must pay a schedule of payments. On the surface, the placement of such equipment must be expected to create a lot of surface damage to the lands in question, but the actual payments are not being used for disturbance. Rather, the money is going to be used for a wide array of projects not even associated with that disturbance.
For example, the initial projects demanded that $4.4 million be paid toward three studies and monitoring activities of jaguars, lesser and Mexican long-nosed bats, and four species of Rio Yaqui fish. The jaguar study is just part of another $3.1 million schedule to be levied against the CBP for monitoring jaguars in both Arizona and New Mexico.
In a recent GAO report, the full disclosure of the $50 million interagency deal reveals that the projects range from a $10,000 demand for a New Mexico habitat survey of the Sneed’s pincushion cactus to a $14,100,000 payment to be made for “Quino checkerspot butterfly, gnatcatcher” in California. Another $13,236, 672 will be paid for a “Cameron County ocelot and jaguarondi corridor” in Texas.
The initial $50 million represented by Secretary Napolitano has actually grown to $52,474,593 in projects spread across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in exchange for certain operational and access considerations along and within the designated Wilderness dominated border lands of Arizona. Of that total, only $1.2 million is going to go to any actual mitigation by CBP activity on the land itself. All the rest is going to various wildlife projects. Asked about that issue, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument superintendent, Lee Baiza, remarked, “The $50 million is a small amount compared to the $600 million Congress agreed in August to spend on agents, inspectors, and other law enforcement officials as well as communications equipment and unmanned aerial drones to monitor border activities.”
Taxpayers have little idea of the danger that has been created on the Arizona border surrounding the ever expanding environmental agenda, conflicting federal land agency missions, and the actions of bureaucratically entitled managers like Mr. Baiza. Within the federally designated wilderness areas, the interagency disputes have allowed the human and drug smuggling corridors to expand, and, as a result, the entire nation has been put at risk.
While the land agencies have battled and thrown administrative and operational obstacles at CBP, the schedule of demands is growing. Discussions have now taken place to expand the demand beyond the initial $50 million. Funding for non-endangered wildlife, wetland and riverfront acquisitions, soil and cultural resource enhancement, and even the protection of native human remains outside of federal land holdings have been discussed.
Meanwhile, the danger of the border lands has increased, and the agencies are even starting to disallow their own personnel from entering certain areas. Such contradiction of actions would lead an objective observer to conclude that the real agenda has nothing to do at all with the degradation of resources stemming from illegal smuggling. Rather, it is the expansion of the land agency bureaucratic domain along with acceptance of the environmental agenda that is truly driving the interagency chaos. How else would any federal manager justify the funding of a “peninsular bighorn sheep study” in California for the allowance of a repeater tower to be installed in the CBP Tucson Sector in Arizona?
In the private sector, such strong arm tactics for funds would not be termed mitigation. It would be called extortion . . . and somebody would be going to jail.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. He is an advocate of the value of land stewardship predicated on assumed risk and economic responsibility. “Risk must be assigned to the manager or peripheral agendas become the guiding force. History is full of examples where those two forces diverge, and failure results.”