Monday, July 26, 2010

And then, there were 10, but still no Champion

By Stephen L. Wilmeth

Last week the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met to conclude work on S.1689, the Organ Mountain and Desert Peaks Wilderness Act. The bill, cosponsored by Senators Bingaman and Udall of New Mexico, has generated a contentious and divisive debate in Dona Ana County, New Mexico where the federal land designations would occur.

In work done Wednesday and finished Thursday, July 22, the markup of the bill was approved and cleared for action on the floor of the Senate. That approval came with the vote and the decision of that committee’s membership. The vote was 23-0 in favor of allowing the bill to go to the Senate floor. Thirteen Democrats and 10 Republicans voted to allow the bill to proceed.

The Organ Mountain and Desert Peaks Wilderness Act is an attempt to designate higher protection status to five mountain ranges. If successful, this action would expand federal control and diminished access to all mountain ranges within that County.

Only seven percent of the county is held privately. Slightly more of the county is controlled by the state of New Mexico and the remainder is all federal land. The backdrop of federal and or state lands with restricted access includes more than 4.5 million acres of Ft. Bliss, White Sands Missile Range, McGregor Range, White Sands National Monument, Holloman Air Force Base, the Jornada Range, the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, and the New Mexico State University college ranch.

The local debate has created a wide divide. The environmental supporters of the bill have built a coalition of local businesses and organizations that number about 220 while the opposition has a coalition of more than 800 that do not support the bill in its current form. The Las Cruces Hispano Chamber of Commerce has recently conducted an externally funded media blitz in favor of the bill and appears to be the environmental spearhead of the action, while the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce (GLCCC) has become the symbolic antagonist to the bill in its current form.

“It became very clear to us that Senator Bingaman was not interested in our concerns about the whole process of how this thing happened,” says Sara Cox Hopkins, a descendent of ranching pioneer W.W. Cox and rancher within the Organ Mountain portion of the proposal. “When we were finally allowed to talk to the Senator, we had to travel to his office in Albuquerque and he granted us 30 minutes. That’s it. That’s all we have seen him other than in public forums.”

The opposition of S.1689 has evolved from attempts to voice concerns by those who have duties, responsibilities, and investments on the lands involved to what has become the center of the storm, border security. “The matter of border security really got our attention,” relates current GLCCC board chair, Kiehl Hoffman. “When we started understanding the conditions of human and drug trafficking issues, our perspective changed dramatically. We didn’t want that duplicated here.”

That argument against the bill has focused on the Potrillo Mountain Complex portion of the proposal. That component lies near the Mexican border and the argument has centered on matters of national security. From work done in conjunction with the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NAFBPO), a profile of the characteristics of the “Arizona Class” human and drug smuggling corridors was compiled. Every one of those corridors that emanate from the 388 miles of the Arizona border with Mexico have similar characteristics.

The characteristics they share are as follows:

1. The corridors have wilderness/de facto wilderness safe havens.
2. They have east /west highway access north and south of the corridors.
3. They have rugged and complex north/south mountain and drainage orientation which provides channels of movement.
4. They are almost entirely or heavily dominated by federal land agency management.
5. The concentration of American private property rights at risk is limited as is the presence of resident American habitation.
6. All corridors have high, strategically located points of observation.

“If anything, the Potrillo Mountain complex portion of S.1689 has the potential to exceed the dangers of the Arizona corridors,” retired Border Patrol agent and current head of the National Border Patrol Museum Board of Governors, David Ham says. “Along with the classic characteristics of the Arizona corridors, the presence of the major interstate railroad, the interstate pipeline, the Las Cruces airport, and the Robledo-Las Uvas corridor extension north from the Potrillos is a major national security risk waiting to happen if this bill passes.”

With the problems occurring in Arizona and the firestorm that has been created with Arizona’s attempt to protect itself from illegal immigration, one would think that Arizona leadership in the House and Senate would be acutely aware of the border dangers. American citizens would think that sitting, senior senators would be especially alert to matters of national security risk and yet John McCain (R-AZ) was one of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee members who voted for the bill to be heard on the Senate floor. Neither Mr. McCain nor any of his colleagues even suggested amendments to the bill that would serve to blunt the danger that the Potrillo Mountain complex portion of the bill will pose to American security.

Mere citizens must learn that the action by the Republicans on the committee was an exercise in tradition and protocol. Committee members are expected to honor the wishes of senators when those elected officials jointly sponsor a bill that affects their state. At least Republican senators are expected to follow that protocol, but the border community of Arizona and New Mexico is getting weary of tradition and protocol.

Following the Krentz murder, border district representatives and state senators rushed to the press with demands for more security. Harry Teague (D-NM) hurled a letter out into space pledging millions of dollars to be spent on enhanced border security measures. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) motored to Apache, Arizona and told the locals that she was going to find solutions. Senator McCain himself declared he would like to be at that meeting if he could find a ride that night from his campaign stop at Sierra Vista, but the fact is there is no true border champion.

If Americans were polled to name the most visible and vocal border champion in Congress, there would not be a name that would surface from a border state. Jan Brewer, no doubt, would be a clear favorite among state leaders, but Congress would have a hard time fielding a border state leader who has demonstrated that he or she would stake a career on his or her border security principles. There isn’t such a leader.

The adherence to the powerful environmental agenda on the American border has put us all in jeopardy. Senator Bingaman’s actions prove that point. He was intent from the jump to elevate his name into the history of wilderness champions, no matter the negative impact on his constituents in Southern New Mexico. After all, it is easier to slap a name on a piece of land than it is to engineer legislation that encourages and stimulates community independence and resourcefulness.


Anonymous said...

If there is a time for a champion to arrise on the border, J.D.Hayworth needs to replace John McCain. Mr. McCain's brand of puff ball conservatism gave us Obamacare and pending disaster. Mr. McCain's attempt to make things better has failed and he needs to now stay home.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with the assessment of the absence of a border champion. There is little original thinking in Congress. They are what they are poll takers and last resort responders. American citizens are in this one until enough disaster occurs to get the last resorters to stick their heads above the sand.

Anonymous said...

What is the Teague story? It is my understanding that there has never been a wilderness in a representative's district if he doesn't support it. Harry must support this thing or he would do something. Why hasn't the press said so . . . ?

Circle Z said...


EarthFirst! Watch said...

The real story behind this scene is the EarthFirst! connection. Follow the trail back from Jeff Steinborn and Nathan Small and there is Dave Foreman. This is an earthfirst play that is happening right in front of everybody's eyes. SunNews where are you?

White Sands neighbor said...

The irony is amazing. All the Arizona problem and Mr. Udall is running blind to build his Udall image. I thought his pledge was to first respresent New Mexicans. These guys are dangerous.

Birder knows best said...

Come on bad losers! You guys played and you lost. Your Bingaman stance was all wrong. Senator Bingaman knows what needs to be done. The land will still be there when you guys are all dead!

Anonymous said...

Now, let me get this straight. Good guys 800+ and bad guys 220? We also have some senators who flunked arithmetic?