Border Patrol vehicles are destroying Arizona wilderness areas

Border Patrol vehicles are destroying Arizona wilderness areas

Tucson : AZ : USA | Feb 20, 2013 at 6:11 PM PST
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A Border Patrol officer in Arizona

Border Patrol operations are destroying designated wilderness areas where motorized vehicle travel is prohibited by law. A new video released today displays the environmental damage from ruts and tracks that Border Patrol off-road vehicle usage has created. And new Border Patrol roads create land-scars that plow through the once-pristine wilderness areas of Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

“These roads and vehicle tracks cause tremendous damage to some of America’s wildest public lands,” said Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity. Tuell is featured in and helps narrate the film “Too Many Tracks,” produced by the Sierra Club.

Tuell says it will take decades or even centuries for the fragile desert ecosystems to recover.

The three-minute video is available for free public online viewing on Vimeo.

The film is not the first documentation of environmental damage.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service linked off-road vehicle damage in the area to Border Patrol operations. Their report inventoried nearly 8,000 miles of vehicle tracks and roads in the refuge. Cross-border vehicle traffic in the area had plummeted due to the construction of a Border Patrol base there in 2003 coupled with construction of a Mexico border barrier that ran the length of the wildlife refuge. Nevertheless, off-road vehicle damage grew worse. The governmental agency report attributes “the greater proportion” of that damage to Border Patrol operations.

In 2006, government agencies that manage border wilderness areas signed a multi-agency agreement providing for cooperation on border security and environmental protection. However, a proposal last year from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would allow the Border Patrol to ignore that agreement.

Similarly, another proposal, by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), would waive 16 environmental laws on federal lands within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders. Although Bishop’s proposal passed the US House of Representatives last year, it’s not expected to gain approval from the Senate or President Obama.

What can be done?

“Better training for Border Patrol agents and more compliance with simple rules and protocols would help protect these fragile border lands,” said Dan Millis of Sierra Club Borderlands in Tucson. “We could make some real progress.”

Sandy Bahr, director of Arizona’s Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, agreed. “These areas are designated as roadless wilderness to protect fragile wildlife and endangered species. Border security is important, and we can achieve it without destroying the environment.”

The Sierra Club asks the public to join them in asking Congress to protect the border wilderness environment areas by signing the Sierra Club’s online petition.


"This Land Is Your Land," exhorted Woody Guthrie's folksong anthem to the United States public. It’s still a rallying cry to claim and defend our environmental heritage.

Lamentably, our Congress, which is entrusted with the legislative power to protect our lands from degradation, in an effort to garner reelection campaign dollars, prioritizes the demands of corporate and special interest groups instead.

Fear-mongering has driven exorbitant spending on efforts to secure the border. Now, with fragile wilderness areas at risk, we have additional motives to ensure that superfluous border security doesn’t drive the agenda of immigration reform efforts.

Environmental agencies can only warn us of the danger, and they have. It’s up to us to demand the changes that can reverse environmental deterioration and protect the environmental security of the border.


Center for Biological Diversity

Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign

Securing the Mexico border or securing America's future?

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Border Patrol causes environmental damage of Arizona wilderness areas
Frame grab from new video shows environmental damage resulting from Border Patrol activity. "Too Many Tracks," produced by the Sierra Club, documents in a few minutes the destruction that experts say may take decades, or even centuries, to remedy.
Billie Greenwood is based in Davenport, Iowa, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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