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May 1, 2012

Pima County Unanimously Opposes Bogus "Border Security" Bill

Supervisors cite irreversible damage to ecologically and culturally sensitive public lands and unprecedented powers that H.R. 1505 would grant Border Patrol.


                    Matt Skroch, Executive Director, Arizona Wilderness Coalition: 520-247-1754

                    Mike Quigley, Arizona Representative of The Wilderness Society: 520-334-8741

                    Lahsha Brown, Executive Director, Friends of Ironwood Forest: 520-256-7884

TUCSON—In a significant pro-conservation decision today, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to oppose H.R. 1505, federal legislation created by Utah Representative Rob Bishop that would hand over “operational control” to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of all federal lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands that lie within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders. The bill permanently exempts DHS—which includes U.S. Customs and Border Patrol—from 36 laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act, The Wilderness Act, The Clean Air Act, and The Clean Water Act.  Called the “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” the bill is co-sponsored by Peter King (R-NY) and 49 other Republicans and has been passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, as well as the House Agriculture and Homeland Security Committees. The bill is set to be voted on by the full House of Representatives at any time.

Citing the components of H.R. 1505 that would give DHS broad authority to ignore our nations laws,  the Board of Supervisors opposed the bill on the grounds that “H.R. 1505 would thus allow the severe and irreversible degradation of critical ecological and culturally important areas,” and that “these affected areas need and deserve the protection of all the environmental and cultural resource laws this nation has enacted over decades of study and diligent consideration, and they rely upon the governance of the experts and agencies that manage them.”


Arizona treasures that would be affected by the 100-mile waiver under the bill include Pima County’s own Ironwood Forest National Monument, Pusch Ridge Wilderness, and Saguaro National Park. Other Arizona gems affected by the bill include Sonoran Desert National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and the iconic Coronado National Forest, home to at-risk species like jaguars, desert tortoise, ocelots, and the Mexican spotted owl.  Other special American places that fall victim to Bishop’s bill include Acadia National Park in Maine; Olympic National Forest in Washington; Tongass National Forest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska; Glacier National Park in Montana; and the much-loved White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire.

“H.R. 1505 is not about securing our nation’s border, but rather a poorly disguised scheme to dismantle our nation’s bedrock laws that serve to protect our country’s health and the natural resources we depend on,” says Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition based in Tucson. “We applaud Pima County, which includes the majority of Arizona’s border with Mexico, in recognizing that securing our border should not come at the expense of our nation’s system of parks, forests, and public lands.”

Bishop’s legislation is opposed widely by conservation groups, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, outdoor recreation groups, and the Department of Homeland Security, and poses an enormous risk to lands near the Canadian and Mexican borders. If the legislation is approved, the Border Patrol would not have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act and 32 other federal laws that protect and enhance America’s natural environment, clean air, and watersheds.

“Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security have said that cooperation with public lands agencies is working well on the ground and that’s helpful to their mission—H.R. 1505 undermines cooperation,” says Mike Quigley, Arizona representative with The Wilderness Society. "Indeed, the very professionals we entrust with our border security have told us clearly that they do not need this bad bill.”

H.R. 1505 would override multiagency coordination that has been occurring on public lands since a 2006 Memorandum of Agreement between the Departments of Homeland Security, Interior, and Agriculture that has led to increased cooperation and leveraged resources. U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello testified at an April 2011 Congressional hearing that Border Patrol "enjoys a close working relationship" with public lands agencies, which "allows Border Patrol to fulfill its border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.” In March of this year, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee that Rep. Bishop’s bill “is unnecessary, and it’s bad policy.”


Moreover, the American public opposes waiving laws along the border and giving the agency unchecked authority on public lands. A 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies: Conservation in the West poll found that Western votersacross the political spectrum overwhelmingly agree that it is unnecessary to suspend environmental lawsalong U.S. borders to address immigration issues, including 73% of Arizona voters.


“Ironwood Forest National Monument was designated to provide long-term protection of some of the most important lands in southwest Arizona for conserving plant and animal species in significant decline,” says Lahsha Brown, executive director of Friends of Ironwood Forest. “The protection of the monument helps off-set the impacts of growth and development in other areas of Pima County. H.R. 1505 could nullify those protections, resulting in a negative impact on Pima County’s economic growth.”


The Arizona Wilderness Coalition’s mission is to permanently protect and restore wilderness and other wild lands and waters in Arizona for the enjoyment of all citizens and to ensure that Arizona's native plants and animals have a lasting home in wild nature.


The Wilderness Society is the leading public lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.


Friends of Ironwood Forest is a local non-profit organization that works for the permanent protection of the biological, geological, archaeological, and historical resources and values for which the Ironwood Forest National Monument was established. The Friends provide critical volunteer labor for projects on the Monument, working with the Bureau of Land Management and many other partners, and to increase community awareness through education, public outreach, and advocacy.

Photo above: An armed NPS employee at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. © Kate Mackay, AWC




-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement