Saturday, April 29, 2017

‘Land that time forgot’ (NM's bootheel)

By Lauren Villagran 

CORONADO NATIONAL FOREST – Wildlife biologist Fernando Clemente steers a six-man ATV over a gravel road that cuts through golden grasslands and shrub forest, over the dry beds of rivers that run only after monsoon storms. Mountains in Mexico ring the horizon. “I understand that homeland security is important for everybody,” says Clemente, whose New Mexico Wildlife Services educates ranchers on both sides of the border in range management that benefits wildlife, the desert ecosystem and cattle grazing. “The problem is,” he says, “a wall will stop everything except a person.” Wild and unwalled, much of the landscape of New Mexico’s Bootheel extends seamlessly into Mexico. Wildlife experts say the Trump administration’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the border poses a special risk to plant and animal life in this region, home to one of the most biologically diverse corridors in North America. “It is the land that time forgot, right there where the border is,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents more than 80,000 sportsmen statewide. “That is one of the most complex and significant wildlife corridors in all of North America. On the border, there are big gaps and holes – thank God – to allow that wildlife movement back and forth.” But the region’s security challenges are evident in a sign near a Coronado National Forest entrance cautioning, “Smuggling and illegal immigration may be encountered in this area.” Clemente is driving a group that includes Deming Public Schools assistant superintendent and avid sportsman Ray Trejo; Gabe Vasquez, southern New Mexico coordinator for the Wildlife Federation; and Zen Khan, a Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine student who hopes to practice wilderness medicine. Clemente is carrying a sidearm for a reason. The Bootheel is a known route for drug mules trekking north to Interstate 10 with 60-pound sacks of marijuana on their backs. The corridor is also used, less often, by economic migrants entering the country illegally. With only a few rough roads, no cellular service and an understaffed station, the Bootheel has long been a challenging area for Border Patrol...more

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