Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Arizona's Federal Lands Problem

A caller on the Rush Limbaugh show mentioned today that the Department of Interior owns much of the land on the Arizona border with Mexico, and that the National Wildlife Refuges, National Monuments and National Wilderness Areas are off limits to ICE immigration patrols.

Desert Invasion has more details, including documentation of how these once-pristine areas are being devastated by drug dealers and criminals.

From the April 15 issue of the Arizona (Tuscon) Star:

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House want to give Border Patrol agents total access to public lands where they currently must adhere to some restrictions.

The move is the latest fallout from the March 27 killing of longtime rancher Robert Krentz on his land northeast of Douglas.

The legislation would prohibit the Department of Interior from restricting Border Patrol activities on public lands. Currently, land managers can create rules regarding access to certain areas to protect land, wildlife or historical sites.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, justified the legislation based on the fact that the person who killed Krentz likely fled into Mexico through the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is 17 miles east of Douglas on the Arizona-Mexico border.

At the 2,309-acre wildlife refuge, the Border Patrol is allowed to patrol on foot or on horseback, but its vehicle access is limited to emergencies and to administrative roads, according to a May 2009 letter from Benjamin Tuggle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife regional director, to Robert Gilbert, then the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector Chief.

San Bernardino refuge manager Bill Radke could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But rancher Wendy Glenn confirmed that those rules still exist. Her 15,000-acre ranch surrounds the refuge.

At a news conference in Washington, D.C., Bishop and other lawmakers accused federal land managers of "hiding behind the law" to place wilderness or endangered species ahead of border safety. "It's unforgivable," he said.

Going back to my trusty GIS application, Mapwindow, I created a layer showing federally owned or controlled properties along the Arizona - Mexico border and it took my breath away:

Click the image for a larger view.  More than two-thirds of the border is federally owned, and much of that is off limits to ICE!

Extra Point: If the GOP takes the House of Representatives in November, the Bishop Bill should receive top priority. If any immigration bill comes before the House this summer, Bishop should seek to have his bill submitted as an amendment. We can't close the border when the government won't cooperate with itself!