Friday, April 16, 2010

New proposed bill could affect local wildlife refuges

Brownsville Herald
April 15, 2010
by Laura Tillman

After a bill was introduced by House Republicans on Wednesday to transfer operational control of lands along the federal border to the Department of Homeland Security, the local spokesperson for these properties says that the plan is ill advised.

"Whenever two agencies collaborate it can only be better for the American people," said Nancy Brown, outreach specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some House Republicans have claimed that federal land managers are more concerned with protecting wilderness and endangered species than securing U.S. borders.

"The Border Patrol is not being allowed do their job. That has to change," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who introduced the bill. A spokesperson for Bishop said that the Rio Grande Valley’s wildlife refuges would be impacted by the legislation if it is passed.

Brown says that in the Valley, Border Patrol operations are bolstered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We work very closely with Border Patrol," Brown said. "We’ve had success in collaborating to address their issues and ours."

Brown said that there had been a "rocky start" in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s collaboration with Border Patrol agents locally, as environmental advocates opposed the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. But Brown says the two agencies have been working together to both fight illegal immigration and maintain the painstakingly assembled wildlife corridor for endangered species.

The 90,000-acre Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is made up of 115 tracts of land, Brown said, and has required more than $70 million in investment from American taxpayers for acquisition of the land.

"We’re biologists, they’re law enforcement," Brown said. "We don’t know their needs and they don’t know ours. We are there to work with them to ensure that they can do their jobs without destroying these resources that are there for the American people."

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