Sunday, May 29, 2011

Safety On The Border

The Federal Response to Employee Safety
S.1024 Revelations
Discrimination of Values
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

     The legislation, “The Organ Mountain – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act” included in S.1689 by Senators Bingaman and Udall died without action in 2010.  Now, the legislation has been reintroduced as S.1024.  Once again, the citizenry must endure the ramifications of the discussion and the divisive process.  Bingaman supporters are already reminding their base of the wonder of such a legacy for the senator.
     Border Patrol Insight
     The fact that Senator Bingaman has had to address the border security issue in this iteration is very apparent.  In the news releases surrounding S.1024, the majority of the wording now deals with that issue.  That wasn’t the case in similar releases accompanying S.1689 when Mr. Bingaman and his staff left the matter silent.
     Much information has come to light since then and Mr. Bingaman can no longer dismiss the matter without qualification.  Evidence even this week has come from David Aguilar, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).   In his tour of the Arizona border, Mr. Aguilar said, “it is a third country that joins Mexico and the United States.”  Experience shows that the Bingaman legislation will expand that “third country”.
     Recent comments by the Tucson Sector Chief also add another twist to the debate.  Realize that only about 25% of the total numbers of illegals breaching the border are apprehended, but he has divulged that CBP can apprehend about 80% of those illegals when unencumbered access is allowed within five miles of the border.  Most of the others are apprehended within a 25 mile distance, but, beyond that, illegals have gained entry into the United States.  What the Bingaman bill will clearly do is to allow the five mile metric to take place, but will disallow the 25 mile component. 
    What is silent is what happens when designated Wilderness or de facto managed wilderness is installed.  The nearest example is firmly embedded 70 miles west in New Mexico’s Bootheel.  It is there that intrusions, as measured by apprehensions, are running ten times the rest of the El Paso Sector on a border mile basis.  The de facto wilderness restrictions installed there clearly demonstrate the real risk in the Bingaman legislation.
     To the Book
     The danger of the legislation is no longer a message from the bill’s opponents.  It is being elevated within the federal land agencies in protocol adjustments and operating procedures.  The best source to evaluate the concern the agencies are placing on the escalating danger is in the new interagency safety training handbook, Borderlands Field Work.  This safety guide was written for federal employees by federal employees whose duties require them to be exposed to the real border story.
     Inside the front cover, an “Incident Contact Information” record can be kept.  It should be noted that of 11 generalized categories 10 were reserved for emergency related responders.  Those responder references ranged from reporting border crossers to notification requirements for each incident. 
     Next, there was an exposé on the generalized characteristics of the border.  The sentence that gets your attention is “the land is characterized by a harsh desert environment and illegal activities associated with the border.”  It went on to say that, in addition to the physical characteristics of the border, federal employees must be prepared to “face dangers including armed confrontations with drug smugglers . . .”
    Locals could view the preparatory suggestions for a new federal agent with more than a bit of disdain.  “Prepare yourself mentally and physically” gets your attention.  Likewise, the required individual preparation by employees for “Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) or Risk Assessment (RA)” would have been well worth scrutiny, but no examples were given.
     The mention of the fact that a day in the life of a federal employee might be “physically strenuous” and will take an “emotional toll” perhaps prompted a bit of stronger cynical response, but when it was learned that the feds can seek counseling as to how to improve their general physical and mental health in such matters at a special website created just for them,, local citizens are left a bit dazed.
     The field guide was a continuing plethora of insightful advice especially the portions devoted to dealing with stress, but the little buzz word, “Yikes” kept confounding the reading.  It was learned that “Yikes” was nothing more than a synonym for “Hazards” that the featured federal employees “Heebie and Jeebie” might encounter.  Heebie and Jeebie were reminded that “Yikes” can always be reduced by “your preparation, knowledge and skill, physical and mental fitness, your compassion for others, and the environment . . . all depicted in the Circle of Stones”.  Huh?
     Onward the information rolled with stops at charts and skill set development checklists that would take half day intervals to complete.  It was demonstrated the employees can even learn how to employ techniques to scare mountain lions off the trails if they are encountered.  Bottom line for the big cats and other border encounters such as “try to remember how long it has been since you last knew where your were” was for federal employees to “hike, walk, or work in groups and make noise” . . . !
     The public safety aspects of the border finally came to life on page 77 and, then, 83 when the issues of S.1024 are elevated into perspective.  The introductive narrative included “the potential for (federal) employees to encounter drug smugglers in the borderlands is heightened because drug smugglers transport large quantities of drugs across Federal, State, and Tribal lands.  The smugglers intentionally use remote locations for transportation routes . . .” For the record, that is exactly what Senators Bingaman and Udall have assured us will not happen with their wilderness legislation.
    The “Yikes” continue with topics of “Avoiding Illegal Immigrants”, “Encountering scouts”, “Dealing with trash”, “Abandoned vehicles”, “Hazardous materials”, “Evasive drivers and High Speed pursuits”, “Decoys” and on and on.  They were also explicitly given authority to break certain state laws.  For example, when camping, they were told they could camp within 200’ of any water source even though New Mexico law prohibits any camping within 300 yards of any man made water supplies. 
     As a standard default, the federal employees were instructed to consult additional websites for help, reduced stress, and assistance in matters of emergency, but always . . . “watch your step”, “deal with criticism objectively”, and “trust that problems will work themselves out”!
     The citizen left standing
     The book ends on page 110.  In all those pages, there is not a single word or reference to the existence of private citizens who must address their duties, responsibilities and investments on the same lands.  Not a rancher, not a hunter, not an off road enthusiast, and not a resident who resides in a remote dwelling is mentioned. In terms of any federal reference of care or concern for stakeholders or private citizens, the citizen reader is left with no other choice but to assume he or she is strictly on his or her own while the feds install a safety net for their employees.
     Why does environmentalism trump other values?
     That is exactly the continuing frustration that unprotected citizens feel when the subject of Mr. Bingaman’s “Organ Peak – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act” is brought up.  The record in Arizona clearly demonstrates that every time designated wilderness legislation on or near the border is enacted human and drug smuggling increases.  There is not a single example that offers a contrary result.
     This whole affair is a growing awareness of the preferential treatment of environmental and ecological values.  Why else would the senators disregard all opposition? 
     S.1024 prompts the need to take this discussion in a new direction.  The question Americans must start asking is why are environmental and ecological values managed preferentially over the other values set forth in the organic legislation of these federal lands?
     FLPMA dictated that scientific, historic, scenic, air and atmospheric, environmental, ecological, water resource, and archeological values were equal and protected under the law.  Each of the values was important, but environmental and ecological values have been elevated in intent and policy.
    Americans can come to their own conclusions why six of the promised eight values have been minimized, but there are ramifications.  The Arizona Border is not just a dangerous place . . . “a third country”.  The Arizona Border has the foundational characteristics to put the entire public safety of the United States at even higher levels of risk.      
     It is time for a fundamental change in the entire discussion.  It is time to elevate all eight values to equal status.
     It is also time for land agencies to address the problem.  A review of the border lands’ safety manual is just one of the many places to start. Modify it, and . . . characterize the adult world that exists and for which it was intended. 
     There are legitimate reasons why eight values were promised.  Each of those values has a core group of American stakeholders at risk or exposed to processes that have experienced value discrimination.  Six of the eight have been forgotten.  When that is rectified . . . and the cartel war addressed . . . the border will be a safer place.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.  “Pick any of the silent values set forth in FLPMA and consider an aspect of the border that reflects its silence.  It is an amazing process.”
     First, the discussion must start with recent agency protocol changes for employees who must travel into those areas.  Among the many changes instituted by government agencies include, but are not limited to the following:
  1. NMDA’s Weights and Measures employees must be accompanied by an armed escort entering all lands bounded by I10 to the east and north from Dona Ana County to the Arizona line.
  2. All NRCS employees can no longer enter into what is being described as the danger zone along the border without a GPS transmitter and a fellow employee.
  3. BLM employees are disallowed south of HW 92 in the San Pedro NCA without armed escort.
  4. Federal inspectors will no longer enter Mexico to inspect cattle.  Private contractors must bring the sealed loads across the border for such inspections.
  5. At Organ Pipe, federal employees are alerted to danger on the basis of color coded levels of danger.  If red alerts are present, federal employees must have armed escorts.


border watcher said...

The Circle of Stones? Is that analogous to the cross for Christians?

DWWhtney said...

Isn't it time to push the idea that border agency employees always be locals? There are lots of reasons. To have to provide instruction to avoid getting lost is kind of like having to provide lessons in English to the new arrival. It should be part of the job description. "If you don't know where you are come back and talk to us when you do!"

urlnotes said...

I looked up to see who the authors of the handbook were and their backgrounds. Interested? Belaulskas is an "environmental management" specialist from California. Campas is a firefighter and an artist. Myers has a degree in public administration and is an federal accident invesigator in places like Montana and Louisiana. Outka-Perkins is a sociologist. She works for an outfit called Missoula Technology and Developmetn Center as a sociologist. Got lots of border experience amongst this crew!

Anonymous said...

Wilmeth on the border! Personally, I think trying to force changes in the agencies is useless. It won't happen and folks will just be left more frustrated. The only way anything can change is to stop funding them. Simple and matter of fact. Facts and figures don't mean a thing. Just shut 'em off.

Anonymous, too said...

I agree with anonymous. I can see Bill Cowan or Warner Glenn, though, sitting horseback on some point watching the feds holding hands and singing to keep the cartel rookies from approaching their camp! Wonder if Wilmeth could get a copy of the cartel safety handbook and report on it?