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- 05-09-2012, 07:53 AM #1
New efforts from BLM to guard desert in southern Arizona
New efforts from BLM to guard desert in southern Arizona
Rangers brought in to keep smugglers from trashing the land
by Daniel Gonzalez - May. 8, 2012 11:36 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
A sign near the Vekal Valley in an area has been a hotbed of illegal immigrant and drug smuggling for years.
Since October, the Bureau of Land Management has expanded its operations at two national monuments in southern Arizona, trying to crack down on smugglers and illegal immigrants who trample and trash the pristine desert on their way north from Mexico.
BLM efforts to guard against smugglers
The federal agency has brought in more than a dozen law-enforcement rangers from other states to beef up patrols at the Sonoran Desert National Monument, south of Phoenix, where towering saguaro cactuses, wide-open valleys and flat-topped mountains create one of the most iconic vistas in the Sonoran Desert. The operations also have focused on the Ironwood Forest National Monument north of Tucson.
Because of their remote locations and ample hiding places, the monuments have become superhighways for violent smugglers sneaking drugs and illegal immigrants from the Mexican border into Arizona.
The smugglers have cast off acres of trash and created miles of illegal roads by plowing through the desert with disregard for the fragile vegetation, often using stolen vehicles that are driven until they break down and are abandoned, authorities say.
During seven two-week operations, the agency's rangers have seized more than 27,000 pounds of marijuana and arrested more than 1,200 illegal immigrants, according to the BLM. That is in addition to the thousands of pounds of drugs and thousands of illegal immigrants arrested by law-enforcement authorities.
The agency also has removed 60 abandoned vehicles, 110 bicycles and more than 24 tons of trash, enough to fill 1,239 garbage bags. And the agency has covered up more than 15 miles of illegal roads.
But some of the agency's work to protect the pristine desert areas from smuggling activity has caused concern among conservation groups.
Jon Young walks through a wash used by drug and immigrant smugglers.
Last year, the agency began erecting long vehicle barriers made of welded scrap-steel railroad tracks to block smugglers from driving vehicles through wilderness areas inside the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The barriers have been highly effective, BLM officials say. Not a single smuggler has driven into wilderness areas where the barriers have been installed, they say.
Eric Reynolds (left) and James Peters, both from the BLM office in Safford, work on vehicle barriers in an area has been a hotbed of illegal immigrant and drug smuggling for years.
Conservation groups say the barriers, although effective, also mar the landscape. However, they view the barriers as the lesser of two evils.
Monuments under pressure
In 2000, President Bill Clinton created the Sonoran Desert and Ironwood Forest national monuments to protect them from urban sprawl extending south from Phoenix and north from Tucson.
The 487,000-acre Sonoran Desert National Monument is located between Gila Bend and Casa Grande, off Interstate 8. The area is the most biologically diverse desert in North America and is known for its abundant forests of saguaros interspersed with paloverde trees, creosote bushes, sage and ironwood trees.
The area also contains many archaeological and historic sites, including remnants of villages that once belonged to the ancestors of the Tohono O'Odham, Quechan, Maricopa and other Native American tribes.
The smaller Ironwood Forest National Monument encompasses 129,000 acres of desert west of Interstate 10 and north of Tucson. The area is known for its concentration of ironwood trees, some more than 800 years old, and its collection of more than 200 ancient Hohokam sites.
The Sonoran Desert National Monument includes the Vekol Valley, where one man was killed and another wounded in April 2011 during a shooting involving drug smugglers.
The smugglers have carved foot trails that spider through the desert and have left behind acres of plastic water bottles, coats, backpacks and other items cast off after trekking for days from the U.S.-Mexican border to rendezvous points 75 miles to the north along I-8, the main highway smugglers use to transport drugs and illegal immigrants to stash houses in the Phoenix area or to California.
Trash left behind by smugglers in an area has been a hotbed of illegal immigrant and drug smuggling for years.
"There is quite a bit of damage done by smugglers," said Thom Hulen, executive director of the Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, a group that advocates for the monument's protection. "In addition to all the damage and all the trash, (the smuggling activity) scares people away. They get spooked."
Signs of smuggling
During a tour of the Sonoran Desert National Monument one recent afternoon, Jon Young, the BLM's chief ranger in Arizona, pulled his pickup truck off I-8 and stopped next to Mile Marker 157.
He told his passengers to wait in the truck while he got out to make sure there weren't any drug smugglers hiding in the brush. Young poked around in the brush for a few moments and then gave a thumbs up.
The ground was littered with fresh signs of smuggling activity. Young picked up a boot made of carpeting used by smugglers to conceal their footprints. Strewn nearby were several burlap sacks, remnants of homemade backpacks used for hauling marijuana through the desert.
There were also several mud-caked jackets and lots of empty half-gallon plastic water bottles, colored black to make them less conspicuous in the sunlight.
Young pointed to the ground beneath the bushes, which had been matted down from the weight of smugglers. A well-worn path leading south toward the border also was clearly visible.
Young said smugglers typically hike four or five days through the desert with backpacks loaded with about 45 pounds of marijuana. They usually travel in groups of 10 to 15 but sometimes break into smaller groups.
They also are typically accompanied by a scout who, instead of drugs, carries a backpack full of food, water, radios and cellphones, Young said. Depending on how far the group is traveling, the smugglers may have several support people hiking with heavy packs full of food and extra water, he said.
Once they reach I-8, they hide until other members of the smuggling organization arrive to pick up their loads of drugs. The marijuana is then loaded into pickup trucks and driven to stash houses in nearby towns or the Phoenix area, Young said.
Smuggling has become so prevalent, the BLM has posted signs on roads leading into the monuments that warn the few remaining visitors to travel with caution. The agency doesn't track visitors, but rangers and conservation groups have seen a decline in the number of hikers and campers who use the monuments, and many now carry guns for protection.
"Smuggling and illegal immigration may be encountered in this area," the signs say.
During operations at the monuments, the BLM transfers about 12 to 16 rangers from other states to Arizona. They work with the 10 rangers assigned to the BLM's Phoenix district, which manages the Sonoran Desert monument, and 12 rangers assigned to the BLM's Gila district, which oversees the Ironwood monument.
To combat smuggling inside the two monuments, the BLM rangers work with other law-enforcement officers who are part of the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats, a group of law-enforcement agencies that includes the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Pinal County and Maricopa County sheriff's offices.
The most recent operation ended last week, resulting in the collection of 219 bags of trash, the seizure of 6,000 pounds of marijuana and the discovery of the body of one migrant.
On a recent Saturday, Joe Nardinger, 38, a BLM ranger from the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument in Montana, found 46 bundles of marijuana weighing 1,000 pounds while patrolling a wash on the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
Nardinger, who was sent to Arizona for two weeks, had been following some fresh tire tracks when he found the marijuana. It was hidden in the bank of the wash, covered by branches the smugglers had cut from nearby paloverde and mesquite trees.
"I smelled it before I saw it. I got a whiff, a big dose of it," Nardinger said.
In addition to beefed up patrols, the BLM has been cleaning up trash and getting rid of illegal roads and foot trails created by smugglers.
Despite the efforts, drug smuggling continues to increase in the area, although illegal-immigrant traffic is down, Young said.
Their cleanup and restoration work has been applauded by conservation groups. But conservationists are less enthusiastic about the vehicle barriers the BLM has been installing inside the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
Last fall, the BLM erected 1.3 miles of vehicle barriers at the southern end of the Sonoran monument abutting the border of the Tohono O'odham Reservation. They were intended to prevent smugglers from driving north from the reservation through the heart of the monument's designated wilderness area.
Last week, the agency finished erecting about a quarter-mile of vehicle barriers northwest of the Table Top Mountain Range.
Those barriers are designed to prevent smugglers from driving south from I-8 to rendezvous points inside the monument.
The BLM plans to install more barriers in other parts of the Sonoran monument, Young said.
Known as Normandy barriers, after the coastal barriers used in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, the 2-foot-high barriers have proved effective in preventing smugglers from driving through wilderness areas and creating illegal roads,Young said.
The Border Patrol has installed miles of barriers along the Arizona border with Mexico.
But this is the first time Normandy barriers have been used away from the border, said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, a conservation group.
The barriers mar the landscape, and conservationists are concerned that those being used inside the Sonoran monument will open the door to more in other pristine desert areas throughout the state, Skroch said.
"We certainly don't want to see a scenario where we keep installing more and more vehicle barriers," he said.
But the group isn't opposed to the barriers outright, Skroch said, because so far, they have been effective in stopping smugglers from creating roads and destroying more of the desert landscape.
"This is the lesser of two evils," Skroch said.
"But it's not something we are particularly happy about."
- 05-13-2012, 12:20 AM #2
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: BLM adds rangers in Ariz.
By TERRY TANG
The Associated Press
Published: Friday, May 11, 2012 11:37 AM MST
Tri Valley Central
PHOENIX — Federal officials are boosting efforts at national parks in southern Arizona to prevent what they say is a path of destruction left by illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has recruited more than a dozen rangers from other states as it increases patrols of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, about 80 miles south of Phoenix, and the Ironwood Forest National Monument, north of Tucson.
Both sites typically draw drug smugglers and border-crossers because of their remote locations and possible hiding places.
The Arizona Republic first reported on the BLM’s plans.
Last October, the agency began seven two-week operations, or what are called “surges,” with the most recent one wrapping up earlier this month. Dennis Godfrey, a BLM spokesman, said smugglers and illegal immigrants’ presence climbs because of the milder weather.
The rangers are armed and have helped arrest more than 1,200 illegal immigrants. Besides keeping watch, the rangers also lead cleanup efforts.
Since October, the surges have dug up 60 stolen or abandoned vehicles, 60 bikes and at least 24 tons of trash, the BLM said. The illegal trekking has also led to miles of illegal roads, destroying fragile vegetation. Godfrey said rangers have been working on restoring trails and off-road destruction.
A strategy that seems to be making a difference, according to Godfrey, is the establishment of vehicle barriers throughout the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Made from old railroad steel, these barriers block smugglers from driving into wilderness areas.
“Is it the ideal situation for a national monument? No, it is not but when we see results of trash going down and illegal roads way down and illegal trails way down ... that’s a trade-off we’re willing to take at this time,” Godfrey said.
Conservation groups are also unhappy with the barriers and their effect on the landscape.
Thomas Hulen, director of Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, said his organization understands the BLM, which started the patrols in 2010, has very few ways to combat smugglers. He just wishes the barriers didn’t stick out so much.
“Fortunately they rust. So after a while, they look like modern art sculptures. But it’s really not appropriate to be in a wilderness area,” Hulen said.
The 487,000-acre Sonoran Desert park is known for its majestic saguaro cacti and villages that were inhabited by several Native American tribes. The smaller 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest monument has been a major attraction for its 800-year-old ironwood trees and houses 200 ancient Hohokam sites.
TriValley CentralWe have immigration laws that just need to be enforced.
- 05-14-2012, 09:52 PM #3
Patrols Recruited To Stop Illegal Immigrant “Pathway of Destruction”
May 14, 2012
Patrols Recruited To Stop Illegal Immigrant “Pathway of Destruction”
While the Department of Homeland Security claims illegal immigration has dropped to an all-time low the federal agency responsible for protecting national parks is boosting its workforce to prevent “a pathway of destruction” left by undocumented aliens crossing from Mexico.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is recruiting rangers from other states to increase patrols in a busy stretch of the Arizona desert along the Mexican border. Why? Because illegal immigrants are trashing the Sonoran Desert National Monument, the most biologically diverse of the North American deserts, and the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is known for its historic archeological district.
Both sites are popular among drug smugglers and illegal border-crossers because of their remote locations and possible hiding places, according to an Arizona newspaper report. In just five months rangers have dug up 60 stolen or abandoned vehicles, 60 bikes and at least 24 tons of trash, according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management figures cited in the story. The rangers are armed and have helped arrest more than 1,200 illegal immigrants. Besides keeping watch, the rangers also lead cleanup efforts.
This has been going on for years, but logically the problem would improve if the number of Mexicans crossing into the U.S. were really at an all-time low like the Obama Administration asserts. More on those figures later. As far back as 2007, the Bureau of Land Management, which is also responsible for the trash cleanup, reported that illegal immigrants left about 4 million pounds of trash and human waste as they crossed through federal and state parks during their trek from Mexico to the U.S.
Cleaning up the mess is a never-ending work in progress that has already cost U.S. taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, according to government estimates. The huge piles of litter includes water bottles, clothes, razors, homemade weapons, food, ropes, radios and lots of human waste. The trash piles up at a much faster rate than it can be cleaned up and has proven to be devastating to the area’s natural habitat, according to congressional testimony delivered by a high-ranking U.S. Forest official several years ago.
The problem is so severe that Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality launched a special state website dedicated to trash along its 370-mile border with Mexico. Earlier this year the agency’s director told state lawmakers that his workers risk their lives to clean up the huge amounts of trash left by illegal immigrants in secluded desert areas with rigorous terrain. The job is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous as illegal aliens use more remote paths to avoid stepped up enforcement along the vast U.S.-Mexico border, the director revealed.
While the nation’s once-pristine federal parklands are literally getting trashed by the high volume of illegal immigrant traffic, the Obama Administration assures that the undocumented population has dropped to its lowest level in a decade. This includes an unprecedented decrease of 41% in apprehensions in Arizona’s Tucson sector, the nation’s busiest portion of border for smuggling.
In fact, over the weekend Texas’s largest newspaper reported that Homeland Security officials credit a tough new Border Patrol program for drastically cutting border arrests to a 40-year low. Under the plan, known as Operation Streamline, all illegal aliens who are caught are arrested and criminally prosecuted rather than voluntarily sent back to Mexico or getting processed through civil immigration courts.
Patrols Recruited To Stop Illegal ImmigrantWe have immigration laws that just need to be enforced.