Salt Lake Tribune
April 14, 2011
by Thomas Burr
Washington • Border patrol agents would be able to cross into sensitive wilderness areas, build and maintain roads, construct fences and patrol the areas with vehicles without fear of breaking environmental laws under a bill introduced this week again by Rep. Rob Bishop.
The Utah Republican, chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee over federal lands, says his bill will allow border agents to secure the border without what he says are barriers — literally physical barriers in some cases — put up by public land managers.
Bishop, who toured the border in Arizona last year and plans to go next week as well, is holding a joint hearing Friday with the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to look at border security along the U.S.-Mexico line.
He says federal lands along the U.S. border are a “haven of criminal activity” and environmental laws meant to protect the lands are actually allowing border crossers to destroy them.
“I have seen firsthand the damage that has been done to our federal lands from trash, foot traffic and man-made fires,” Bishop said in reintroducing the bill he proposed last session. “Providing Border Patrol with the necessary access to deter and apprehend those who cross through our federal lands illegally would deliver the greatest benefit to both national security and the long-term health of our federal lands.”
Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, under which border patrol operates, said the department doesn’t comment on pending legislation. But he noted that DHS is fully committed to cooperating with Interior and the Forest Service, which also has lands abutting the international border.
Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff also declined to comment on pending legislation but noted that the department’s work with Homeland Security has allowed basic border security infrastructure to be strategically located on federal lands to meet DHS’ goals.
Interior, Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture entered into an agreement in 2006 that allows border patrol to enter sensitive wilderness areas in pursuit of criminal activity, though Bishop has contended the deal still hampers the ability to secure the border.