New Report Details Environmental Damage from Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement Activities

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Immigrant and Border Patrol Foot and Vehicle Traffic is Damaging some of the Southwest's Most Beautiful Parks, Monuments, and Wildlife Refuges

(02/01/2006) - Washington, DC -- Some of the Southwest's most beautiful wildlife habitat and wilderness areas are suffering needless damage as increased border enforcement activities in urban areas drives illegal immigrant traffic into environmentally sensitive areas along the U.S. Mexico border, according to a report released today by Defenders of Wildlife. Compounding the problem is the accompanying Border Patrol enforcement activities, including road and wall construction, off-road vehicle patrols, and low-level helicopter flights. The report spells out several options for policy makers seeking to secure our borders while also protecting national parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges.

"Current immigration and enforcement activities along the border are destroying many of the Southwest's most beautiful wilderness areas, but we don't need to destroy our nation's wildlife, parks, and refuges to protect our national security. All it takes is a little foresight and planning to protect these important places even as we protect our borders," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President of Defenders.

The report focuses largely on the damage done to the Arizona borderlands, in particular Arizona's two largest wilderness areas: the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. These areas encompass more than one million acres of desert wilderness and are home to a stunning array of imperiled wildlife including the Sonoran pronghorn, jaguar, desert bighorn sheep, Gila monster, tropical kingbird, and desert tortoise. But immigrant traffic and border patrol activities have severely damaged these areas in ways that could take decades to repair. For example:

Illegal trails and roads carved by immigrants can destroy sensitive vegetation and wildlife habitat, and affect erosion patterns. The fragile desert soils and plants could take over a century to recover.

Vehicles abandoned by illegal immigrants are expensive to remove and towing them causes additional damage.

Trash and human waste left behind by illegal immigrants affects soil and water quality.

Low level helicopter flights by the Border Patrol disturb wildlife and habitat areas.

Off-road vehicle patrols damage sensitive regions vital to local wildlife.

U.S. road, light, and fence-building projects disturb wildlife, destroy habitat and shift animal migratory patterns.

"The U.S.-Mexico border is a political line that divides what is essentially one large environmental region on both sides of the border. Many border activities, including illegal immigration and U.S. border enforcement activities have enormous impacts on the region's wildlife, landscape and economy," said Clark. "Already, many parts of our parks and refuges are closed to the public – some are even closed to staff – because of the damage done by border activities."

Defenders' report comes at a time when lawmakers in Congress are considering several bills to enhance border security and address the illegal immigration issue. Several of the proposals include extensive mandated border construction projects, including a wall along the entire Arizona border. And just last year, President Bush signed into law a bill that exempts many border projects from environmental laws designed to assess or mitigate any damage they may cause, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. Defenders' report offers several recommendations that will allow us to protect our borders and the local environment:

Make use of innovative designs for needed construction projects to lessen their environmental impact.

Outfit the Border Patrol with high-tech surveillance equipment to improve border security while minimizing environmental damage.

Provide more information to affected border communities about ongoing and proposed border activities and give them a voice in the process.

Assess the environmental effect of Border Patrol activities in the region and create the partnerships necessary to restore and protect these vital areas.

Enlist the aid of conservation groups who stand ready to help repair the damage done and who are willing to be an effective planning partner for future border projects.

Recognize that land management agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management can and should be partners in security and law enforcement activities and fund them accordingly.

Making sure any new legislative initiatives take into account the need to protect our natural heritage, even as we secure our borders.

"National security always comes first. But proposed border construction projects, including large-scale fence building, have the potential to severely harm wildlife and damage some of the Southwest's most beautiful landscapes," said Clark. "Lawmakers advancing immigration and border proposals can and should take into account the effect of these proposals on our nation's wildlife, parks, and refuges and work to minimize any damage. Fortunately, there are several simple steps that can be taken that will allow us to secure our borders even as we protect local communities and the environment."

For a copy of Defenders' report, "On The Line: The Impacts of Immigration Policy on Wildlife and Habitat in the Arizona Borderlands," please visit here.

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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 490,000 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
William Lutz, (202) 772-0269

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