Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the border: One-sided agency cooperation

Agency Cooperation Where?
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

      “After a slow start and much trial and error, cooperation among federal departments and agencies charged with protection of the border and wilderness areas has been improving in the past few years," concludes the report produced by consultant Kirk Emerson of the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy and requested and funded by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
       Was this the same New Mexico Wilderness Alliance whose Associate Director, Nathan Newcomer, stated that concerns arising over border security activities hindered by federal land management priorities and interagency cooperation have stymied the passage of Senator Bingaman’s S.1689 with its 241,400 acres of designated Wilderness of which 180,050 acres are located in a direct line of sight of the border.
      This is an interesting development in the S.1689 debate.  Eyebrows are being raised in the opposition coalition of more than 800 Dona Ana County, New Mexico businesses and organizations and the more than 2250 additional petitioners who stand firmly in opposition to the bill.  The word to that opposition from the Bingaman camp has been, “Wilderness is not causative” in terms of illegal traffic and impediments to border security. 
      If that is the case, why on earth should there now surface a suggestion that such concerns have stymied S.1689 from passage?  Senators Bingaman and Udall of New Mexico certainly have not demonstrated to their constituency that they have had that concern.
     The Revelation of Conflict
     The National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers has stood in unity against the passage of the bill.  They believe the situation in Arizona will be duplicated in New Mexico if designated Wilderness is created on the border of southern New Mexico.
     A NAFBPO contemporary representing the environmental side of the debate and a paid border consultant, Ron Colburn, elevates the suggestion of the tranquility and cooperation in his reminder to Americans that the activity in the Yuma Sector of the Arizona border has had a 90% drop in illegal activity over the last five years. 
     Actually, Mr. Colburn needs to check his computation because he could have represented correctly that the drop was 95%.  What he failed to state is that there are no designated Wilderness access limitations in the Yuma Sector nor is there in the El Paso Sector where S.1689 is currently being considered.
     If Colburn had wanted to paint an honest assessment of the border, he would have reminded Americans that all apprehensions have dropped over 50% in the last five years and that the growth of entry, as a percentage of the whole, has only occurred in the San Diego Sector, and . . . the Tucson Sector.  He could have described how activity has plunged in the Yuma and El Paso Sectors, the neighboring sectors to the Tucson Sector.  He could have told the American people that the interdiction of illegals in the El Paso Sector now stands at 54 per border mile per year, in the Yuma Sector at 55 per border mile per year, but that the Tucson Sector is running 17 times those results at nearly 920 per border mile per year!  He could have reminded the American people that in the face of declining total apprehensions, drug smuggling is expected to be up as much as 57%, and that current year illegal alien deaths will establish a new record.  He could have said that the Border Patrol’s answer to General David Petraeus, Victor Manjarrez, has been quietly assigned to that sector in an attempt to make some headway in the war that rages there on our American border.  He could have told the American people that it is in the Tucson Sector where the “gold standard” for securing Arizona Class Human and Drug Smuggling Corridors exists at its zenith.  It is there that over a million acres of Wilderness has been designated on the American border with Mexico with all its obstacles to Border Patrol access and resulting rampant illegal entry. 
     The Concern of Cooperation
     Cooperation, of course, is an issue that exists between the federal land agencies and the Border Patrol.  There has also been the need to elevate the presence of historical stakeholders into the discussion.  After all, it is the Border Patrol and the historical stakeholder groups who have found themselves in the crosshairs of conflicting land agency agendas.
     There are many who have started arraying the federal land agencies on a cooperative index scale.  The agency that seems to have the least idea of what to do has been the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but that is not isolated to the Arizona border.  In many ways, the border hugging Tohono O’odom Indian Reservation is more dangerous than the designated Wilderness areas.  It has become a black hole where many people move back and forth without any allegiance to legitimate authority on either side of the border.    
      The BLM has been the most forthright in its internal policies and actions warning both its employees and the American public of the dangers that exist on the border. In no cases known to date, has the BLM used the conditions on the border to expand its mission agenda.  Its leadership remains the best among the federal agencies in attempting to maintain relations with its stakeholders.
     The Forest Service has systematically been an expander of its mission agenda.  Its relationships with its historical stakeholders have been less than stellar.  In fairness, its mandate to uphold the land laws, particularly ESA and NEPA, has put it in a situation that makes relationship maintenance difficult, but even GAO reports indicate that it’s effects creates more obstacles for the Border Patrol than progress in building bridges in policy or coordination efforts.
     The US Fish and Wildlife Service is the next step up the scale.  When its Regional Director fails to return any calls to the Sector Chief of the Border Patrol, red flags must be raised and that is exactly where the USFW finds itself.  Three issues stand out for discussion:
  1. Using more stimulus money at San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge to build enhanced fencing on its perimeter away from the border than on the border in order to limit Border Patrol activity is not acceptable.  Installing a system on that border refuge whereby the Border Patrol can only enter the refuge mechanically for the purposes of emergency (conditions of human life and death matters) is fully unacceptable to the national defense of the United States.  USFWS does not have authority to unilaterally manage its lands in a de facto wilderness manner.
  2. The conditions at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge have so deteriorated that areas along the 5.5 miles of shared border with Mexico have been closed to the public since 2006.  In recent reports, management of Buenos Aires admits that the original premise of establishing the refuge, the intention of returning it to a perceived state of desert grasslands, is not going to happen.  The restrictions subsequently imposed on the Border Patrol, though, have now resulted in 1,315 miles of trails or about 50 miles of illegal human and drug smuggling trails per square mile of refuge.  Locals will no longer even go there.  The infrastructure that was in place when the USFWS got their hands on the land is now largely gone. It has become gangland in every sense of the word. 
  3. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge now has 8000 miles of illegal roads and trails created by illegal entry and human and drug smugglers since the refuge was designated Wilderness!  Although there are many incidents to report, one watershed incident needs to be divulged.  The management of the refuge has disallowed Border Patrol helicopter access if and when endangered species are present.  The suggestion by the management is that a real time system needs to be installed so the Border Patrol can determine where those endangered species are so that flight operations can go elsewhere . . . ! 
     The Park Service takes the top spot in the uncooperative index in its militant stance against historical stakeholders and the Border Patrol.  It was at Organ Pipe in 1978 that the first border Wilderness was designated.  It was there that the Border Patrol encountered not only an unfriendly federal land agency, but an underlying environmental agenda that opened the wilderness pathways into the soft underbelly of America. 
     It was at Organ Pipe that Park Service officials stood in the open cockpit (over the moribund body of an illegal) of a Border Patrol helicopter demanding names and personal information of the pilot in order to prosecute that unapproved landing in designated Wilderness to pick up that near dead human being.
     It was at Organ Pipe that the Park Service elevated the Border Patrol into the hierarchy of the most dangerous antagonist to that monument’s wilderness kingdom.  The Border Patrol was declared more dangerous to the natural landscape than illegal entry and drug cartels!  And, it was there that the Park Service, as early as 2002, knew the extent of the damage emanating from border wilderness sanctuaries for illegal entry into the Unites States.  They had found in their own study, in a representative one square kilometer (about 160 acres) of Wilderness in the Valley of the Ajos, the following illegal activity:
-          one set of bicycle tracks
-          one set of horse tracks
-          three illegal fire scars
-          40 sites of trash (excluding water bottles)
-          seven rest sites
-          15 sets of vehicle tracks
-          48 discarded water bottles
-          254 illegal foot trails!
    The Park Service did not share that information until it was demanded by Congressional leaders in 2009That federal agency not only elected to declare itself absent from any discussions of cooperation, it openly displayed its disdain for the Border Patrol.
   The Cooperation Mechanism
    If there has been any movement to bridge the cooperation gap among the agencies with the Border Patrol, especially the USFWS and the Park Service, it has come in the form of sanctioned extortion.  The disclosure that $52,474,593 was extracted from the Department of Homeland Security for Border Patrol access on these federal lands provides some insight into the realm of the real cooperation.  Represented as mitigation payments, only $1.2 million of that total is going to actual mitigation.  The rest is being spread across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in various studies, acquisitions, and projects aimed at various wildlife species that the vast majority of the American people could not identify.
     The Cooperation Reality
     Consider this factAmerican Congressional leadership has allowed the development of conditions that have created the most dangerous border in the entire world along our southern border.  Central to that has been the designation of Wilderness and central to that has been an environmental agenda that is much more pervasive than ever imagined.
     The expansion of the Arizona Class Drug and Human Smuggling Corridors, the deterioration of the natural resources of the Arizona border itself, the heightened danger of the border to American citizens and officials, and the escalation of the drug war in Mexico all can be traced in part and or in total to this environmental and social agenda that has been ingloriously loaded on the backs of American taxpayers.  This is a battle that has been raging on this side of the border for many years.  It is a battle that set the stage for the greater battle now raging on the south side of the border.  It is real and our leaders need to comprehend its complexities and its dangers to U.S. citizens and law enforcement agencies.
     “Agency cooperation” has become words used merely for expediency.  It is Washington speak that has become tiresome to Americans who pay the bill for agency fiefdoms and kingdoms.  There has been too little cooperation by land agencies extended to the Border Patrol, and that has been by design.  There is a time to fix it, though, and that time is . . . now.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.  The ranching community that spans the border communicates through their cowboys. News is exchanged and discussed.  The decrease in apprehension numbers in the El Paso Sector border lands are closely tied to two things.  The first is the economy of the United States.  The second is twofold. The first component is the horrors of the carnage that is taking place in Juarez, the most dangerous city in the world.  Illegals simply want to avoid the risks associated with running the gauntlet that exists on the approaches to that border area.  The second component is why run that risk when the higher likelihood of success of entering the United States is through the Arizona Class Human and Drug Smuggling Corridors of Arizona’s Tucson Sector?   Illegals know.  It is not rocket science.

1 comment:

Border Watcher said...

I'll leave a comment. If S.1689 passes, every American citizen living on the border needs to make sure that, in succession, Jeff Bingaman, Tom Udall, and John McCain need to be run out of office. Bingaman for obvious reasons. He is S.1689. Udall becaus he thinks he has to support anything that casts a conservation light on the name Udall, and McCain because (too many reasons), but it was Mr. McCain who blessed this bill out of committee without any prinical of defending the border. He seems to be blindfolded on the border crisis.