Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Wilderness is Causative
Border Wilderness and the National Security Threat
Wilderness is Causative
Bingaman’s Promise to “run (the facts) to ground”
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
In a meeting two years ago, New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman gave the contingent of Dona Ana County residents who led the fight against his proposed “Organ Mountain – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act” one hour in his Albuquerque office to present their opposition to the bill. He had assured them that evidence they had presented would be “run to ground”. Most importantly, he had dismissed their plea that border wilderness had created serious national security threats to all Americans. He declared that “wilderness is not causative” in matters of national security threats.
The Open promise
The group of constituents were shown the door and never heard directly from the senator or his staff again. They came to realize that, regardless of the evidence presented, the senator was intent on pursuing the bill in the form blessed by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
Adjustments were made in the language of the bill including the inclusion of a five mile buffer for the Border Patrol to adequately patrol from the Potrillo Mountain administrative boundary south to the border itself. If wilderness was not causative in terms of danger to national defense, the first acknowledgement of border security concerns was demonstrated by the senator in that action.
Reporting cracks appear
From Border Patrol data, the impact of Bingaman’s five mile buffer came into focus. Based on Arizona conditions, the Border Patrol admitted in public testimony in May, 2011, 80% of illegals apprehended are caught within five miles of the border. The other 20% are generally caught within 25 miles. The remainder, an estimated 75% of all illegals breaching the border, are not apprehended.
The Bingaman bill would create a situation whereby the Border Patrol would catch 80% of what it is now apprehending. The designated federal wilderness stretching 20 miles north from the administrative boundary would conceal the others.
That “others” would represent 80% of all intruders in the Potrillos. At a minimum, the bill would create a situation where eight of ten border intruders would be shielded from normal and customary surveillance.
The Safe Haven influence
There is a problem, though, with assuming the numbers would remain similar to those currently being experienced in the El Paso Sector. Those numbers are hovering under 50 apprehensions per border mile year. One hundred ten miles west in New Mexico’s Bootheel, the apprehensions are running ten times that number. It is there the de facto wilderness management policies of the federal land agencies are in place and affect the Border Patrol’s full and unencumbered access to all areas of the border.
Those policies mimic the yet more restrictive designated federal Wilderness constraints further west in the Border Patrol’s infamous Tucson Sector. In the core of that Sector, the apprehensions are over 900 per border mile year. That is nearly 20 times the rate of the El Paso numbers the federal government presents to the public when border safety is discussed.
The Tucson Sector is where the real onslaught takes place. It is there, on 13% of the southern border, that half of all human and drug smuggling activities occur on all American borders. It is a dangerous, dangerous region that few Americans now venture and where federal land agencies limit their employees from entering without an armed escort.
The Tiered Approach
The designated Wilderness and de facto managed lands of southern Arizona have required the Border Patrol to install a tiered approach to border defense. In many areas they simply cannot adequately patrol on the border and have had to drop back in an approach that can be best described as a series of nets.
The tactic has been described by retired Border Patrol agents as defensive rather than proactive or offensive. It has been likened to trench warfare waiting for the unseen adversary to arrive across no man’s land rather than confronting border intruders at the border and daring them to challenge sovereign American territory.
The Bingaman bill in its original form, S.1689, failed in 2010. It failed for a number of reasons not the least of which was the outrage of American politics demonstrated in the midterm elections. Environmental backlash was a strong undercurrent in that revolt.
The bill is now back and it will be again start the dreary process of making its way through the system. There is an interesting development, though. The undercurrent of environmental tedium is apparent in the repackaged work. No longer is there any reference to “wilderness” in the title of S.1024, The Organ Mountain – Dona Ana County Conservation and Protection Act, but there is added emphasis of border security. The issue of “causative” is brought vividly back into perspective.
Wilderness is Causative
Bingaman’s verbal manifesto that wilderness is not causative has proven to be incorrect. The data doesn’t support his stance.
The characteristics of the Arizona smuggling corridors can be described in detail. Wilderness has complimented those characteristics each and every time it has been designated on the border.
The rate of apprehension and interdiction of human and drug smuggling is exponentially higher in the Tucson Sector. The concentration of federally designated wilderness and de facto managed federal lands in that sector is ground zero in the concentration of such smuggling. There is a bell curve of apprehension history and it peaks dead center in lands designated federal Wilderness.
The spring GAO-11-38 report suggested that only four of 26 of all Border Patrol stations recognize that federal land laws affect their ability to protect the border. Such a rate may not be a major problem to some leadership, but, when those stations happen to be in the smuggling corridors created and exacerbated by federal designated Wilderness where 92% of all human and drug apprehensions across the Yuma, Tucson, and El Paso Sectors occur, major problems do exist.
The rate of deaths and sexual assaults suffered by illegals entering the United States is at an all time high. The preponderance of those human indignities occurs in the Tucson Sector smuggling corridors created and exacerbated by federal designated Wilderness.
As more is understood about the drug war in Mexico, there is growing realization that the smuggling corridors themselves are central to the expansion of the violence. Only history will reveal how that war might have been different if those corridors had not been so easily created. Designated Wilderness was the major catalyst in the creation, the expansion, and the barbaric defense of those corridors.
Plea from No Man’s Land
In a recent discussion, a New Mexico Bootheel rancher was asked what he thought of ‘his’ president’s stand on border security. He responded that he wasn’t sure of such a position because he hadn’t read anything regarding ‘his’ president’s stance.
Irritated by the response because of the abundance of recent reporting the rancher was challenged. He finally had to divulge that since he lived in an area conceded to Mexico in matters of border protection, he simply hadn’t seen what President Calderon had to say recently about such matters!
Sadly, that growing cynicism is shared by to too many folks who have duties, responsibilities, and investments on the lands along the Mexican border. Environmentalism has trumped national security interests on the Mexican border. There is simply no other way that Senator Bingaman’s actions can be interpreted in the face of appeals from his border constituents who face the danger outright.
There are three Wilderness Study Areas along the New Mexico border with Mexico which face eventual wilderness designation consideration. Of the three, that portion of the Potrillo Mountains in the repackaged S.1024 will have the most profound impact on national security. The classic characteristics the Arizona class human and drug smuggling corridors are in place. There are the east/ west accesses north and south of the area, the rugged north/ south physical characteristics of the terrain, the strategic high points of observation, the domination of isolated federally owned lands, the scarcity of resident Americans, and the presence of wilderness, safe haven expanses.
What makes the area yet more dangerous are the ultramodern east/ west transcontinental railroad that forms the northern boundary where 70± trains a day sit awaiting track priority, and the interstate gas line that runs parallel to the same corridor. Five and ten miles north of those infrastructure features are I10 and the airport at Las Cruces, New Mexico. If there was ever a scenario that sets the stage for catastrophic national security implications . . . Senator Bingaman’s S.1024 has all the features.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Wilderness and wilderness management are not only causative in terms of degradation of resources and national security, the combination has totally displaced the “values” management promised in FLPMA. How bad has it become on the border? When the rooting sections for the passage of S.1024 consist of the environmental movement and the drug cartels, it is time to seek new leadership.”