Friday, June 18, 2010

Security Worries Overshadow U.S.-Mexico Park Plan

After more than 70 years, a project to create an international peace park between Texas and Mexico is slowly moving forward. Last month, Presidents Obama and Calderon signed a joint statement pledging both countries' interest in protecting cross-border wild lands. But worries over border security overshadow the project. When Big Bend National Park was established in 1944 in far West Texas, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to President Manuel Avila Camacho of Mexico, "I do not believe this undertaking in the Big Bend will be complete until the entire park area ... on both sides of the Rio Grande, forms one great international park." As of last year, Mexico had set aside 2.5 million acres of wild lands on its side of the Rio Grande. Together with Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, this could become the greatest protected desert ecosystem on the continent. Brewster County Sheriff Ronnie Dodson, whose vast county — bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined — includes the Big Bend, says if there was a park in Mexico, he'd stay on his side of the river. "I definitely wouldn't go over there," he says. He's leery of Mexican drug traffickers. But international park supporters insist that the area is relatively safe. They point out that the Big Bend region has less illegal activity than many other areas along the 2,000-mile border. But Dodson disputes that idea. "Within a month, between us and Border Patrol, we've caught 6,000 pounds of marijuana coming out of there [and] numerous illegal aliens. The problem is when people say we're the least, it's because we're the biggest — and we miss a lot," he says. U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), who represents the district that encompasses Big Bend, wrote the resolution to create an international park with Mexico. "This is a very difficult time to be doing this," he says, "but I want to stress that the more communication we have with Mexico the better we will be." There is not yet a detailed plan for a binational peace park. In fact, most lawmakers have not even heard of the idea. Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has, released a statement saying she would not support any such undertaking that could compromise border security. A National Park Service official in Washington, D.C., speaking on background, said senior levels of the Interior Department and Mexico's Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat have quietly begun discussions on what an international park would entail. He said the mood is more positive than it's been in years — perhaps because this is one of the few bright spots in otherwise tense border relations...more

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