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  1. #1
    Senior Member Neese's Avatar
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    Nov 2006
    Sanctuary City

    Destruction of our National Wildlife Refuge ... 02006.html

    Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Mitch Ellis and I am the manager of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. I have been the manager of Buenos Aires since September 19, 2004. Immediately prior to my assignment to Arizona I served in the National Headquarters as the Chief of Refuge Law Enforcement for the National Wildlife Refuge System. As a result of these experiences I am intimately familiar with refuge law enforcement activities along our national border. I appreciate the opportunity to represent the Fish and Wildlife Service in discussing the impacts to refuge lands by illegal immigration and law enforcement activities associated with such.

    I would like to present information that characterizes the current day-to-day realities of managing federal lands along the southwest border. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) manages six national wildlife refuges situated on the international boundary with Mexico. In total, the Service is responsible for managing the natural resources along 158 miles of border in Arizona, Texas and California. These 1.1 million acres of federal wildlife refuges along the border provide significant habitat for endangered species, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Many rare and endangered wildlife species can only be found in this part of the United States. The Sonoran pronghorn, masked bobwhite quail, and many other species have their last hopes vested in these refuges along the border.

    Of course, these remote areas have also become prime habitat for smugglers, undocumented migrants, and other illegal border crossers. In fact, the number of illegal border crossings has increased dramatically on national wildlife refuges. More than 100,000 illegal border crossers were arrested on refuges in 2005. Also, more than 167,000 lbs of marijuana was seized on border refuges in 2005. Unfortunately, that’s only what is apprehended and much more passes through undetected. The border has also become more violent. Gangs, border bandits, drug smugglers, and other criminals are committing robbery, rape, murder, and other atrocities at an alarming rate along the border. As our law enforcement officers work these areas, they are subjected to increased risk and must be prepared to deal with the criminal element operating on the border. We also have a tremendous responsibility to address the public safety issues in these areas as most of these lands are open to recreation. Providing for safe and meaningful public use remains a high priority for the Service.

    While the Service is responsible for the stewardship of these lands, it is the Department of Homeland Security that is primarily responsible for the security along our international border. Only by working together will we be able to meet both our missions. The challenges along these remote stretches of border require that our agencies coordinate our activities, share information, and facilitate the deployment of appropriate infrastructure.

    I have been invited here today to describe the stark realities of managing lands on the border. To do that, I would like to focus on the area I manage - the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, located south of Tucson, Arizona. The refuge is 118,000 acres in size and has about 5.5 miles of international boundary with Mexico. The refuge was established to protect the unique desert grasslands found in the area and to provide habitat for endangered species, primarily the masked bobwhite quail. The refuge is bounded on the west and east by rugged mountains, making the valley a prime avenue for illegal border crossings. The staff at Buenos Aires are faced with the difficulty of continuing the conservation program at the refuge while being constantly affronted by border-related distractions and security issues. The following information will give you an idea of what we face at the Buenos Aires as we go about our jobs.

    To start with, 16,000 illegal border crossers were arrested attempting to cross on the Buenos Aires in 2005, though more than 235,000 were estimated to have crossed the Buenos Aires that same year. Law enforcement officers also seized 47,000 lbs of marijuana on, or immediately adjacent to the refuge in 2005. There are border bandits operating on the refuge, arguably with relative impunity, as they target migrants, whom they rob at gunpoint. In recent months they have also committed 5 homicides, 2 rapes, and shot at least three other people while on the refuge, again targeting primarily migrants. Another 18 bodies were recovered on the refuge over the past two years, most succumbing to dehydration or exposure. These human tragedies and risks are on the minds of our employees every day at the refuge. We have had to institute several standard operating procedures for our staff’s field activities to mitigate the risk associated with these illegal activities. In many areas, staff are not allowed to enter without being escorted by law enforcement officers.

    Our visitors are also being impacted. Staff at our visitor center have been listening to complaints for years regarding the problems associated with illegal border crossers. Many of these visitors state they won’t be coming back to the refuge. They relay stories about having their food, water, and other belongings stolen. A few have had their vehicles stolen. And there have been a few cases of visitors forcibly removing illegal border crossers from their vehicles to prevent them from being stolen. Fortunately, none of these incidents have resulted in injury. But we are extremely concerned about this trend of boldness and violence exhibited by illegal border crossers recently.

    Refuge facilities and equipment are also at risk on the border. The refuge has had 4 government vehicles stolen thus far in 2006 and we have had 5 burglaries of refuge housing so far in 2006. In one recent incident, a refuge employee’s government house was literally ransacked by a burglar who stole food, clothing, and a shotgun. The same burglar apparently got so frustrated when he couldn’t hotwire the employee’s vehicle out in the yard, he broke the windows out and slashed the tires. One of our refuge officers was able to catch the burglar about two hours later. The burglar was wearing our employee’s clothing, including a pair of government boots, and was busily sawing off the barrel of the shotgun he had just stolen. By working and living on the border we are forced into a defensive mode to protect our personal and government property.

    Border issues and the associated illegal activity also cause a tremendous amount of resource damage to the refuge. The following information and statistics help to characterize the situation and give you an idea of what we are up against as we manage these lands. The following figures are for the Buenos Aires and are indicative of what has been on-going for at least the past three years.

    Trash - By conservative estimates more than 500 tons of trash are left behind by illegal border crossers each year on the Buenos Aires. Refuge volunteers and staff are able to pick up 30-40 tons of trash each year, but the remainder accumulates throughout the refuge, biodegrading slowly and creating adverse resource impacts. Picking up trash on the refuge diverts about 3000 hours of volunteer time donated to the refuge each year.

    Abandoned Vehicles - More than 100 vehicles are towed from the refuge each year due to border activity. Many other vehicles litter the landscape because they are not near roads and cannot be easily towed. The refuge spends valuable personnel and fiscal resource having these vehicles extracted from remote areas. In particular, this activity diverts valuable law enforcement resources.

    Trailing - More than 1300 miles of illegal trails have been created on the refuge by illegal border crossers. The direct damage to the landscape is more than 300 acres of denuded vegetation, several miles of erosive gullying, and tremendous wildlife disturbance the refuge as a result of this increased human presence.

    Illegal Roads - Several miles of unauthorized roads have been created by illegal border crossers as they attempt to evade law enforcement officers. This off-roading has led to more of the same problems as described with trailing.

    Human Waste - As the masses of illegal migrants move through the area, human feces and toilet paper litter the landscape. The impacts are health risks to visitors, fouling of wildlife waters, and compromising the aesthetics of the refuge.

    Cattle Trespass - Illegal border crossers often damage or cut fences, or leave gates open, which allows cattle to enter the refuge. This directly impacts our habitat management program for wildlife. But probably worse is the fact that most of the cattle trespass is from Mexico which may allow for brucellosis or other diseases to enter this country. This type of impact could be devastating to local livestock industries, especially if quarantines become necessary.

    Wildfire - Several fires each year are started by illegal border crossers. These are either rescue fires as they get into trouble, or warming or cooking fires that have been left unattended or otherwise escape.

    All of this damage is caused by illegal border crossers and, of course, the necessary law enforcement response. There is a balance to be achieved whereby law enforcement activities result in a net benefit to the resource, and not a detriment. We must work effectively with agencies such as Border Patrol to not only mitigate damage as we address illegal activity, but also increase our efficiency as we work together to combat illegal activity. A significant amount of our time is spent on cooperative efforts with the Department of Homeland Security specific to enforcement activities on the Buenos Aires.

    For example, the refuge and Border Patrol have agreed to certain standard operating procedures for how patrols and apprehensions will be carried out on the refuge to minimize environmental impacts. The refuge has also facilitated the use of our airstrip by the Border Patrol so that their aircraft patrols are more efficient. We also allow them to maintain a portable fueling facility at the airstrip so they can continue operations without returning to Tucson for fuel. We have worked jointly with Border Patrol to develop a 3-acre equestrian facility on the refuge which serves their horse patrol unit. This enables them to conduct more patrols on horseback, which is less damaging to the landscape. The refuge frequently allows Border Patrol agents to utilize our trailers and RV hookups for temporary housing during details and special operations on the refuge. The refuge has recently coordinated with Border Patrol and permitted the placement of two rescue beacons in an effort to reduce migrant deaths on the refuge. The refuge is permitting the ongoing use of our maintenance yard by DHS personnel to construct vehicle barriers. And last, but not least, our law enforcement officers and managers continue to coordinate with DHS on a daily basis. All of the cooperation and coordination listed here takes a significant amount of time to accomplish, but you can see that we are serious about working together to address border issues.

    In addition to our cooperative efforts with DHS, we also are forced to deal with many issues on our own. To address the resource damage and other border-related issues, the refuge staff’s response is rather like triage, as we direct our fiscal and personnel resources to only the most pressing needs. A full 30-40% of our maintenance staff’ time is spent installing security fences, vehicle barriers, putting bars on windows and doors at refuge housing, maintaining roads damaged by illegal activity, rounding up cattle and picking up trash. Our biologists spend precious time documenting and mitigating resource damage. My deputy manager and I spend about half our time dealing with the border, whether it’s attending to the day to day triage, pursuing interagency cooperation, or fielding interviews from the media. And of course, our law enforcement officers are consumed by illegal border activity. We would like to be able to send our refuge officers on patrol to tend to the visiting public, enforce resource-related regulations, check boundary fences, and patrol for poachers. Unfortunately, they won’t get 30 minutes into their patrols before getting caught up in some activity related to illegal border crossers. We can’t turn our back on smugglers and we won’t ignore another agency’s call for backup.

    We would love to direct more of our efforts at Buenos Aires to managing natural resources, instead of managing border issues and damage. But the current situation will not allow for that. I believe any land manager or rancher along the border will tell you the same thing. In fact, the situation at Buenos Aires is not unique. My fellow land managers along the border are all facing similar challenges and dealing with the issues in much the same manner.

    I hope I have provided meaningful information regarding the current situation along the border and provided some insight into what managing federal lands in that environment is like today. With the right resources and attitudes can work collaboratively with our partners in the Department of Homeland Security to effectively conserve natural resources on our National Wildlife Refuges. We can identify our priorities and implement creative solutions to address these issues.

    Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    16,000 illegal border crossers were arrested attempting to cross on the Buenos Aires in 2005, though more than 235,000 were estimated to have crossed the Buenos Aires that same year
    That's a lot of trampling, littering, defecating, and destruction by this massive group of Illegals---and that's just the beginning! Think of the end result of 20 years of Illegal Residence, and subsequent "anchor baby" reproduction by this hord! Now multiply this by 100, and you have the real scary potential environmental impact NO ONE ever really talks about!
    Title 8,U.S.C.§1324 prohibits alien smuggling,conspiracy,aiding and

  3. #3
    Senior Member Neese's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Sanctuary City
    2,231 ... losure.pdf

    It is a sad day when we have to close down portions of our public lands due to dangerous foreigners assaulting our government workers and threatening our citizens. Does our government think that this will get better if we let it go?

  4. #4
    Senior Member Neese's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Sanctuary City
    I wrote a letter of appreciation to Mr Ellis and Ms Swarbrick, and they were nice enough to write back. Here is what they said:

    Hello Denise,

    What a thoughtful letter you wrote to us! Thank you so very much. I
    forwarded it to Mitch Ellis (refuge manager), our assistant manager,
    and our law enforcement chief. It is gratifying to receive appreciation
    from the public and acknowledgement of these border problems. So often we do not hear these words of appreciation, and part of that is because the situation is not adequately communicated. Also, much border issue coverage concerns impacts to our economy, taxpayers, medical facilities, and so forth, but does not include impacts to wildlife and their habitat. A substantial part of our budget is applied to into border-related items.And we who live on the refuge (like me) have had our housing broken into (9 times for me), and the refuge has had many vehicles stolen. With hundreds of immigrants per day, and all the roads and trails and trash, the impact to habitat and wildlife is huge.

    Thank you for your concern and for your words of support. It is good
    to know that there are concerned folks like you out there.

    I hail from Illinois myself. (I deleted her personal information).

    Once again, thanks for your concern and for communicating that to us.

    Bonnie Swarbrick
    Outdoor Recreation Planner
    Buenos Aires NWR

  5. #5
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    52 comments left so far after this story.


    Published: 03.26.2007

    Refuges 'only guess' on border woes
    Illegal entrants' habitat damage now a mystery
    By Tony Davis
    In 2003, a study found that trails blazed by illegal border crossers had denuded vegetation on 279 acres of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and that more than half of 1,315 miles of makeshift paths lay in habitat of an endangered cactus.
    Today, refuge officials want to do a follow-up study, but they don't have the money, refuge Manager Mitch Ellis said.
    This is one of many examples of how federal budget cuts have crimped, in some cases severely, the operations of Arizona's nine national wildlife refuges, the refuge managers say.
    Overall, the cuts are severe enough that the refuges no longer meet their federal mandates to protect, preserve and manage natural resources under their control, managers of the Cabeza Prieta, Buenos Aires and Cibola refuges said last week.
    In the Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, all wildlife refuges and the regional federal office supervising them have lost 17 full-time job positions since 2004. Under a just-released budget-cutting plan, the refuge system in this region will lose another 43 jobs by 2009, including 38 biologists, managers, planners, a maintenance worker and a law enforcement staffer.
    Arizona's refuges will lose 12 positions, or 16 percent of their work force, between now and 2009. Jobs will be lost by attrition, with no layoffs expected. The largest refuges, such as Buenos Aires and Cabeza Prieta, will lose few or no staff members, although they already have lost some since 2004. Midsize refuges, such as San Bernardino and Cibola, will lose the most.
    The reason for the cuts is that budget increases for the National Wildlife Refuge system in the past five years have gone mainly into specific programs such as border security and maintenance — not into routine daily operations, federal officials say. While the entire system's budget of $383 million is up from $300 million in 2001, the refuges' general operating budgets haven't matched continuous increases in salaries, utility bills and day-to-day expenses, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the system.
    The service's new operating plan for the system requires these staff cuts to hold salaries to no more than 80 percent of refuges' total operating costs.
    "Being a land manager is a pretty expensive prospect these days," said Tom Harvey, who manages the Southwest's refuge system from Albuquerque. "There are uncontrollable expenses: chemical costs, fuel costs, utilities, personnel costs, benefits, health costs and mandatory training. Even if our budgets stay flat and don't increase, they are in a sense declining.
    "When you couple that with deficits we are in, and the fact that we are going to be in for some rigorous times, it makes sense to try to get our house in order as best we can," Harvey said.
    But these cuts have meant that bird and mammal surveys, firefighting capabilities, restoration work, invasive-species control, trail maintenance and, above all, monitoring and combating problems caused by illegal entrants and U.S. Border Patrol vehicles pursuing them have been cut back, refuge managers say.
    "We're over our heads here," said Roger DiRosa, who manages Cabeza Prieta, southwest of Ajo. "Say the refuges had more resources in the form of biologists and technicians. That wouldn't make any difference to controlling illegal activity on the border. But it would help us know what the impacts are and what we have to do to mitigate the impacts. In this case, we can only guess."
    Some specifics:
    ● The Buenos Aires refuge, southwest of Tucson, lacks an adequate staff to remove much of the fencing put up when the refuge was a cattle ranch decades ago. Staffers don't have time to repair all the water tanks and levees that blow out during monsoon rains. They do probably half the wildlife surveys and habitat monitoring that officials want done, Ellis said.
    Although the refuge has lost only one staffer out of 15 in recent years, the existing work force can't keep up with those tasks and deal with the overwhelming pressures caused by illegal immigration, he said.
    ● Cabeza Prieta, which borders Mexico southeast of Yuma, has lost one of its two biologists in recent years, and it devotes 60 percent to 70 percent of its staff's time to border-related problems. Biologists spend their time recording border-related damage, DiRosa said, and they're almost ignoring invasive buffelgrass and other plants that are migrating up from Mexico.
    While the refuge is trying to bring back the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, DiRosa said he's not able to answer the questions he regularly gets from the media and outside groups about how much damage the refuge habitat suffers due to illegal-migrant traffic.
    ● Buenos Aires and Cabeza Prieta have eliminated youth programs due to lack of staffing. Children used to come to the refuge and maintain trails and fences, pick up trash and do groundskeeping work under the supervision of full-time staff members.
    ● The San Bernardino Refuge, near Douglas, has no biologists, with three such vacancies unfilled. Monitoring of the endangered fish species that the refuge was formed to protect has decreased by 50 percent since 2004, the refuge manager said. Not being able to count wildlife populations is like "putting air in your tires without putting in a pressure gauge once in a while," Manager Bill Radke said.
    "It's like fighting a tide," Radke continued. "You can build that castle against the tide for a while — if you have enough people that you can shore it up and make it work. But if you lose those positions, tide will overwhelm."
    Since 2001, the federal government's emphasis on homeland security, fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq have all contributed to budget pressures that are now hurting the refuges, said Harvey, the Southwest system manager.
    "Refuges are so good at doing more with less," Harvey said. "The refuge managers and refuge staff are very creative at partnering, seeking private donations, nongovernmental organizations, volunteers, matching grants, surplus equipment and collaborative partnerships. This is the time to say we are going to do less with less."
    Linda Barber, president of Pima County's Republican Club, said that right now, maybe the refuges don't need so many people because the federal budgetary pot is not infinite.
    "There are priorities to set, and the major priority is to protect the borders of this country," said Barber, who added that she is not averse to having wildlife refuges, because both she and her husband are hunters and "we don't want to see these animals disappear."
    But if cuts continue, border-area wildlife refuges eventually will have to cut off public access, said Jenny Neeley, Southwest associate for Defenders of Wildlife, an organization dedicated to protecting native wild animals.
    "We protect these refuges because of the long-term benefit to us, our children and grandchildren," Neeley said. "These are things we'll never get back if we keep cutting."
    U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., believes one way to address the problem of tight refuge budgets is to make sure the federal government doesn't acquire more land until it has the money to properly manage what it has, said Matthew Specht, Flake's press secretary.
    But the comments of Arizona refuge managers are in line with those given by managers across the country who answered a recent survey from a national environmental group, said Daniel Patterson, southwest director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
    Ninety-four percent of the more than 160 refuge managers who responded to the survey said their refuges' operations were deteriorating. Nearly two in three who responded said the refuge system isn't currently accomplishing its missions, the survey found. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said that staffing levels have fallen below the refuges' basic needs.
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  6. #6
    Senior Member Neese's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Sanctuary City
    There is never money for the things that we need, yet we will allow foreign countries to invade us without a fight. In the meantime, they destroy everything in their path. The Sierra Club is useless and will not lift a finger on this project. I have written them , and it does no good. There is a reason Flake is named Flake. Get rid of him!!!

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