Aldo Leopold and other early wilderness advocates could not have envisioned that today thousands of federal wilderness acres are being usurped by Mexican drug cartels, while U.S. officials look the other way.
The 1964 Wilderness Act that defined wilderness as “ . . . an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man . . . ” began by setting aside 54 areas totaling more than 9 million acres for federal protection. By 2009, the U.S. Congress had set aside 756 “untrammeled” areas for a total of more than 110 million protected acres.
Yet today foreign nationals are entering the United States illegally on footpaths through wilderness along the southern border. Many of these lands designated as federal wilderness are virtually controlled by Mexican drug cartels. Yet the Obama administration, environmentalists, and even Arizona’s Pima County Sheriff whose jurisdiction borders Mexico, downplay the impact of the cartels and the “undocumented immigrants” trashing “untrammeled” wilderness.
With federal officials treating damage to fragile ecosystems as minor annoyances, the cumulative effect is a progressive ceding of public lands to Mexican drug lords.
In the past decade, thousands of acres of national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, national wilderness areas, and other public lands have been taken over by drug and alien smugglers.
Arizona is the epicenter, and the gravely wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., has been a strong supporter of border control and a critic of the Obama administration’s lax enforcement policies.
Mexican cartels are not just moving drugs and aliens through fragile ecosystems. With impunity, they are growing marijuana crops and making billions of dollars from coast to coast on federal lands such as Sequoia National Park in California, Pike National Forest in Colorado, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, and the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.
In southern Arizona, drug and alien smugglers use corridors on federal lands such as the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (closed to U.S. citizens because of violence), Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Ironwood Forest National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Coronado National Forest, and Sonoran Desert National Monument.
The smugglers destination is Interstate 8, which at places runs just north of the Mexican-U.S. border. The corridors traverse some 20 million acres of wilderness, of which more than 4 million acres are virtually cartel domain. Armed foot-soldiers of the cartels have been spotted patrolling U.S. lands.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has posted signs in Arizona warning motorists that they enter certain federal lands at their own risk, that certain lands are active drug and human smuggling areas, that motorists may encounter armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed. Some signs read, “Danger — Public Warning — Travel Not Recommended” and “Travel Caution — Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered in this Area.”
The signs say nothing about federal enforcement actions or motorist protection, even though an estimated 100,000 illegal aliens and $39 billion in illegal drugs pass through southern Arizona each year.
Abuse of federal lands from coast to coast continues with the acquiescence of the BLM, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), both chambers of Congress, and the White House.
Before U.S. Border Patrol agents can enter a federal wilderness area, they must comply with provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Wilderness Act, and Endangered Species Act. In contrast, drug cartels and illegal aliens break these laws at will and with immunity.
Shootings and assaults of U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. Park rangers have become commonplace. In 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agents were killed in Arizona, California, and Texas. Yet the Homeland Security secretary insists that the southern border has never been more secure.
Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., proposes legislation to increase wilderness designation of southern border lands that are known corridors used by drug and alien smugglers. His legislation would keep U.S. Border Patrol agents from operating, not just on wilderness, but on all federal lands.
In addition, U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., have sponsored “The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act” (S1689) which would designate as federal wilderness 241,400 acres of BLM lands in Dona Ana County which borders Mexico.
Citizens of southern New Mexico oppose the bill, because it would restrict U.S. Border Patrol access and thus open pathways for vicious drug and alien smugglers.
Where is the environmental outrage at the abuse of sensitive federal lands by drug and alien smugglers? Environmentalists seem to have lost their voice.
Meanwhile what is the U.S. government doing to stop the trashing of designated wilderness areas and the murders of federal agents and private landowners? The U.S. Attorney General is suing Arizona for enacting a state law that mirrors the existing federal law that, if only enforced, would stop this madness.
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