Inflexible Fence Law Could Spell Disaster for Southwest Wildlife

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Defenders Calls on Congress to Amend the Bill in November’s Lame Duck Session

(10/26/2006) -     Washington, D.C. -- The President today signed a bill that could have far-reaching impacts on sensitive wildlife habitat along the U.S. border with Mexico. The Secure Fence Act strictly mandates that double-layer, reinforced fencing be constructed along large stretches of the border but provides no mechanism for communities, tribal leaders, or federal land managers to help decide where fencing should be installed or where other security measures should be taken.

"Large-scale fencing projects can severely harm some of the Southwest's most significant and beautiful lands, including national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "To address these concerns we expect congressional leaders to live up to their commitment to amend this law during the upcoming lame duck session so that both the U.S. border and our border resources and wildlife are safe," said Schlickeisen. "We’re calling on members to address the concerns with this bill outlined in a recent letter from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert."

The Border Patrol is already working with federal land management agencies, such as the National Park Service to construct vehicle barriers that block illegal vehicle entry into the United States while still allowing for movement of wildlife such as jaguars, bears, bighorn sheep and numerous other species. Such barriers, especially when used in conjunction with high-tech surveillance and communications equipment, will often be more effective than fencing and do less damage to wildlife and public lands. The government has already spent millions constructing several vehicle barriers that have been extremely effective in reducing illegal crossings through protected lands such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. In fact, illegal crossings have been reduced in Organ Pipe by 525 percent since the Organ Pipe vehicle barrier was constructed.

The Frist-Hastert letter, which was printed in the Congressional Record, outlined actions that "will be taken before adjournment of the 109th Congress." One of the provisions would allow the Homeland Security Department "flexibility to use alternative physical infrastructure and technology when fencing is ineffective or impractical."

"Simply giving the Homeland Security Department the flexibility it needs to decide how best to secure our borders and giving communities and land managers a voice in the process would be a great first step," added Schlickeisen. "National security comes first, but we do not need to sacrifice the Southwest’s natural heritage in the process."

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Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues.

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Contact(s):

Cindy Hoffman, (202) 772-3255

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