Sunday, February 21, 2016
The Badlands of New Mexico
“Yes, fence me in!”
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Everybody should spend a week dealing with herds of animals and assuring they have adequate water and feed. Implicit in that is keeping them within administrative boundaries and maintaining a degree of order.
At a fence line drinker three days ago, I witnessed two cows fighting first outside the trough, then inside in the water, and then through the divider and out the other side into the other pasture. The power exhibited could only be described by witnessing the event. The fight for trough space and uninterrupted drinking prompted a confrontation. Fences, regardless of normal range conditions, can be breached if livestock strength is concentrated and directed.
Fencing pliers and vehicle impact breaches are even more efficient.
Jim and Seth found where people following the Butterfield Trail cross country cut a gap in the fence where the historical trail crosses from us onto them. The vandals had to be high tech folks with GPS capability to have determined that exact point because the trail is not clearly visible but is marked on topographic maps. The four strand wire gap was cut flush with the posts and it became instant and convenient vehicle access for them. It also created an open gate for cattle to travel. The night that techno outdoor excursion ended the perpetrators probably went to bed sunburned and excited about their grand adventure, but their illegal action created another demand on us.
At least four cowboy days were consumed sorting their inconsideration out.
Southern border ranchers long ago gave up hope for federal assurances that positively affect their lives and livelihoods along the international boundary. They view the matter as something they face alone. The debate about a “wall” between the United States and Mexico occupies the political debates, but the installation of a comprehensive barrier is an unlikely proposition with current leadership.
To most of the rest of the nation, the border remains a great unknown. What our local community of ranchers knows very well is the international boundary from El Paso west to the Arizona state line.
Certainly we have great concern for the illicit drug trade, but our first and most pressing concern is cattle trespass and or cattle losses. In the elimination of effective rancher presence on either side of the border, Mexican drug cartel activity invariably fills the vacuum. That creates added chaos and it becomes very difficult to retrieve cattle lost through the border fence into Mexico. On that basis, we believe strongly that, at a minimum, every foot of international boundary must have cattle proof fencing. It should be constructed to effectively limit any extraordinary breach threat. If that means an area suffers from cutting sections with pliers for access, cable should be used. If cartel sophistication increases and the incoming border invaders carry acetylene torch kits to cut the cable, more positive access controls should be added until that section of fencing effectively limits the opportunity of breach.
That means Department of Homeland Security must be ready with a gradient of measures commencing with border fencing, advancing to electronic surveillance, continuing to walls and or even the assignment of agents directly to the points of greatest vulnerability if the conditions warrant such close attention.
National safety must be assured.
Interestingly, cows remain a most basic measure of the effectiveness of border defenses. If cattle are contained, the corresponding ingress and or egress of illegal activity reflect that containment.
On our 180 miles of border, half of it is deficient for livestock containment. More specifically, there are 92.9 miles of border that has no restraint against illegal crossing on the basis of barrier obstruction to entry. Certainly, the Border Patrol offers offset to that vulnerability, but the agency is put in a position of having to bolster any added protection stemming from nonexistent physical boundary barriers.
That leads to another problem. With half of our border vulnerable to the likely losses of cattle into Mexico, huge vulnerability exists for the nation’s biosecurity from animal disease borne pathogenic entry from the south.
That is unacceptable.
Fences do make good neighbors
It might be interesting to take a narrated guided tour of the border starting in the extreme eastern point of our described border herein at the famous monument of demarcation on the southeastern slope of Mt. Cristo Rey that signifies the point of international boundary that unites three states and two countries.
Heading west the immediate area is fenceless, but it is contained by extremely rough terrain and a very effective “pedestrian” barrier off the slope to the south. That barrier extends westward for nearly 10 miles. South of it lies Juarez or colonias thereof and poses no risk to cattle loss. Cattle don’t exist there, but Border Patrol does in abundance.
For the next 10 miles a combination of “Normandy” type barriers (think of the pictures you have seen of the German defenses on the coast of Normandy and the scenes of D Day) with and without 42” livestock barriers mixed with post and rail fencing without livestock barriers are constructed there. The first livestock concerns exist at that point.
The next 30 miles west from the international entry at Santa Teresa is fenced with the same Normandy barriers with the livestock barrier. From the ranchers’ standpoint, that is offers an effective livestock barrier as long as it is properly maintained.
The next 26 miles that spans the approach and departure from the border town of Palomas is a combination of post and rail fencing (which needs a more effective livestock barrier,) spans of the very effective pedestrian fencing (both sides of the international entrance), and fencing that varies from post and rail to simple Normandy mechanical barriers without livestock barriers. High risk of border breach on the basis of livestock entry is at issue in parts of that stretch.
The real problems, however, begin at a point approximately 15 miles west of Palomas. It is there stretches of inadequate barbed wire fencing begin. There are approximately five miles of that fencing in that span westward mixed with 12 miles of Normandy fencing with a good 48” livestock component. That combination reaches the turn south along the international boundary that forms the eastern boundary of the New Mexico Bootheel.
From the turn south, the entirety of the north south leg of the international boundary poses high risk. It is entirely barbed wire fencing that ranges in effectiveness as a livestock barrier from average to terrible. Part of it remains 60 year old infrastructure without any assurance of effective smuggling or biosecurity protection. It is a debacle awaiting an international trigger. It can be cut with pliers, breached easily with vehicles, won’t stand up to cattle fighting, and illegals can gain entrance to the United States without restraint.
That stretch of border is an outright threat to America.
The threat continues westward along the base of the Bootheel for nearly 15 miles before more effective Normandy barriers with 48” livestock barriers are installed. The remaining 30 miles to the Arizona state line are a continuation of that Normandy barrier but interspersed with 12 miles of barbed wire offering no effective physical barrier for mechanical breach.
The best protections occur in the corridors of highest populations and vehicular traffic, but the more than 90 miles of rural and isolated barbed wire fencing in our 180 mile stretch of international boundary offers no security to any American.
It worries me greatly and I operate 35 miles north of the most highly secured eastern stretch of the described boundary. My colleagues directly on the border must be considered some of the bravest people in the world. Every American should be glad they are there, with their cattle, serving as the first line of civil, border defense.
Before I started this yesterday morning, I read an article on biosecurity protocol that must be maintained for protection of our national food system. The words describing the measures of such protection became somewhat humorous.
All the sophisticated measures being employed at ports of entry along the border stand the highest risk of being a waste of time when the greater, most dangerous aspect of the border is revealed. In that regard, the effectiveness of uninterrupted protections along the international boundary with Mexico in the form of protective physical barriers is a canard of gigantic proportions. Whether the issue is drug and human trafficking or the matter of biosecurity relating to livestock, the foundation is woefully lacking. We are exposed.
We are at full risk of catastrophe, and … all we seem to do is compile words for the archives.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “A group of border citizens are going to meet March 10 in Animas, New Mexico to tell the world once again what this nation faces. Perhaps … a news channel or a politician or two could learn a few things by attending.”