Border securityBorder security bill would harm U.S. National Parks: environmentalists

Published 23 April 2012

A bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives would suspend the enforcement of almost all the U.S. environmental laws on all lands under the jurisdiction of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture within 100 miles of the northern border with Canada and the southern border with Mexico; the 100-mile zone includes fifteen National Parks which cover 21,657,399 acres, or nearly 25 percent of the overall footprint U.S. National Park System; supporters of the bill claim it would bolster border security, while environmentalists say it would gut a century’s worth of proven federal lands protection

Legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives is claimed by its supporters to aim at improving U.S. border security, but would instead “have the potential to devastate 54 of America’s national parks, historic sites, national monuments and other popular park icons and negatively impact the nation’s economy,” according to a warning issued today by the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR). CNPSR says that H.R. 1505, titled “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” would materially weaken a century’s worth of proven federal lands protection, potentially opening up millions of pristine acres of national parks to off-road vehicle use, road construction, air strips and helipads, fencing, base installations, and other disruptions.

This legislation, introduced by Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) would suspend the enforcement of almost all the U.S. environmental laws on all lands under the jurisdiction of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture within 100 miles of the northern border with Canada and the southern border with Mexico.  It would change the targeted national park and other federal areas into security zones and leave what CNPSR calls “priceless resources” unprotected.

CNPSR also says that in addition to the damage the legislation would do to delicate ecosystems, it would also damage local economies, which have evolved to depend on the tourism, jobs, and related economic benefits generated by the neighboring national parks.

Among the National Park Service areas that fall within H.R. 1505’s proposed 100-mile zone of potential devastation are Acadia, Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, Cuyahoga Valley, Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Guadalupe Mountains, Isle Royale, Joshua Tree, North Cascades, Olympic, Saguaro, Theodore Roosevelt, Voyageurs, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

The combined total acreage of these fifteen parks is 21,657,399, nearly 25 percent of the overall footprint U.S. National Park System. They are located within the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Ne

CNPSR chair Maureen Finnerty said: “This legislative proposal is perhaps the most direct assault on national parks ever to be advanced at any level in any Congress in U.S. history.   It threatens to literally stop all enforcement of several landmark environmental and conservation laws that NPS uses to manage and protect the National Park System and to serve millions of park visitors.   The outrage here is that national parks and other U.S. crown jewels could end up being trashed in the name of achieving national security gains that are fictitious.”

CNPSR says that among the thirty-six laws which would be expressly suspended within 100 miles of the borders with Canada and Mexico are virtually all environmental, historic preservation, wildlife, pollution, and tribal protection laws, including the National Park Service Organic Act, 1916 (the act that requires park areas to be managed for conservation and enjoyment so as to leave them unimpaired); the Wilderness Act, 1964; the National Environmental Policy Act, 1969; the National Historic Preservation Act, 1966; the Endangered Species Act, 1973; the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts; the Archeological Resources Protection Act, 1979. All these laws are critically important to maintaining the integrity of America’s national parks.

Opponents of the bill note interagency collaboration under existing authorities has made this legislation unnecessary in any event. DHS secretary Janet Napolitano testified on 8 March 2012, that the bill “is unnecessary, and it’s bad policy.” Officials from the U.S. Border Patrol testified against the bill in Congress on 8 July 2011, explaining that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enjoys a close working relationship with the Department of Interior (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows us to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment. We respect the missions of these agencies, and we recognize the importance of preserving the American landscape. Our agencies have formed a number of agreements that allow us to carry out both of these missions. CBP believes that efforts to reduce the number of illegal aliens crossing the border have lessened environmental degradation and have assisted with recovery of damaged resources, and we are fully committed to continuing our cooperative relationships with DOI and USDA to further this good work” (see the testimony online here).

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