N.M. Federal Lands News 11/10

In this column we’ll see how the Border Patrol may be burning up boot leather on the border, how Wilderness advocates have a real problem reading, and how BLM plans to skirt the law  on National Monuments.
Wilderness: The Border Patrol Can’t Patrol
There is a federal lands controversy brewing in southern New Mexico that has drawn national attention.  The controversy is about access: Access by ranchers, campers, hunters, general recreationists, the handicapped community and the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies. Access for the Border Patrol has been the issue most discussed on the state, regional and national level.
The instigator of this controversy is
S. 1689, legislation introduced by Senators Bingaman and Udall, which would designate almost a quarter of a million acres of BLM land on or near our border with Mexico as Wilderness. Wilderness is the most restrictive designation in the Congressional arsenal, especially when it comes to access.
The problem is with the Wilderness Act itself, which states “there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area” and “there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” In case there is any doubt, that language is contained in the section of the statute titled “Prohibition of Certain Uses.”
Now combine that language with all the violence occurring on both sides of our border with Mexico, and you can see we’ve got a problem right here in River City.
Many of the areas proposed as Wilderness in the Bingaman bill are currently administratively designated as Wilderness Study Areas. Based on the BLM’s Interim Management Policy for Lands under Wilderness Review, the Border Patrol can regularly and routinely patrol these areas using motor vehicles. If Bingaman’s bill becomes law this would no longer be the case. All areas designated as Wilderness would prohibit “motor vehicles” and “mechanical transport”.
That means that with the exception of when they are in “hot pursuit”, the Border Patrol can only access these areas on foot or on horseback. Based on what is occurring in Wilderness areas right now in Arizona, you can rest assured the Mexican drug cartels don’t feel compelled to restrict their activities in the same fashion.
Recognizing the issue to some extent, Bingaman has tinkered with the bill, such as moving the southern boundary of one wilderness area to five miles from the border instead of the three miles in the original proposal. Tinker is the kindest term I can use. This revision has been endorsed by the Obama Administration (Surprise, surprise). However, the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NAFBPO) has stated the Bingaman proposal would create the “perfect corridor” for human and drug trafficking right here in New Mexico.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) says about New Mexico, “Most of the New Mexico/Mexico border area is open desert, barren and generally uninhabited. This terrain offers drug smugglers easy access into the United States and to major interstate highways.”
The ONDCP also says, “The most significant drug threat in New Mexico is the transshipment of drugs and drug proceeds by Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs). These MDTOs have also established local poly-drug distribution organizations that are capable of distributing multiple kilogram quantities locally and regionally.”
The National Drug Intelligence Center of the Department of Justice says the MDTOs are established in Las Cruces, Deming and Columbus, New Mexico.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says about New Mexico, “Most of the New Mexico/Mexico international border (approximately 180 miles) is open desert and is generally uninhabited with numerous roads, trails, footpaths, and ranches allowing smugglers easy entry into the U.S. and access to major highways which traverse the country.”
Most importantly, the DEA also states, “Current enhanced enforcement operations by the Department of Homeland Security in Arizona will most likely force drug traffickers and alien smugglers to shift their smuggling efforts from Arizona to New Mexico.”
All this has been stated by federal law enforcement agencies without Wilderness being designated.
No wonder the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers says Bingaman’s bill will create the “perfect corridor.” The only wonder is why the Senator would continue to foist this mistake upon us.
The Bingaman wilderness bill was reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Bingaman chairs, and could have been brought to the Senate floor at any time. Bingaman chose not to do so, and the Senate has adjourned until after the elections.
That means the only shot this bill has to become law in this Congress would be during the lame-duck session which will occur after the election. Senate insiders say that could only happen if a so-called Omnibus Public Lands Bill passed both Houses of Congress, and they at this point consider that to be unlikely.
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other greenie organizations have started an all out campaign for an Omnibus Bill during the lame-duck session, so we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it.
Wilderness Advocates Distort
Bingaman Bill
Rather than admit the problems with S.1689, supporters have resorted to misquoting or distorting the language in the bill.
Two recent Op-Eds in the Las Cruces Sun-News are good examples.
Mr. Ron Colburn, in a Sept. 18 Op-Ed, referred to Section 7 of Senator Bingaman’s wilderness bill and quotes it thusly:  “Nothing in this Act prevents the Secretary of Homeland Security from undertaking law enforcement and border security activities . . .”
However, he left out the very next clause of that sentence, which states, “in accordance with section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act”.
And what does section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act state? It’s the same section I quoted above, “there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”
So yes, the Border Patrol could undertake border security activities, but it may not use “motor vehicles” or “mechanical transport” in doing so.
Then nine days later, Mr. Peter Ossario in his Op-Ed also conveniently left out the 4(c) language. He then says “the section on border security specifically carves out permission for security activities — and authorized grazing privileges: (b)(3) –The use of motor vehicles . . . shall be prohibited . . . (1) except as necessary for– (A) the administration of the area (including the conduct of law enforcement and border security activities in the area); or (B) grazing uses by authorized permittees.”
What he doesn’t tell us is that language only applies to the Restricted Use Area, and doesn’t apply to any of the 242,000 acres designated as Wilderness by the bill.
I leave it to your good judgement whether these gentlemen are just poor readers of legislative language or have deliberately set out to deceive the public about its’ actual content.
Those Monuments Again
More has been happening on those secret Department of Interior documents recommending the President exercise his authority to designate National Monuments, including two in New Mexico.
The Wyoming Congressional Delegation is not happy. You see there is a law on the books which limits the President’s authority to designate National Monuments in Alaska and Wyoming. So the Wyoming folks thought they were safe.
But not so fast. The final pages of the aforementioned documents have been released and BLM has hatched a method of circumventing the law. Recognizing this limitation, the document states, “BLM therefore proposes that the Administration use the BLM’s land use planning process to identify management action, including possible mineral withdrawals . . . in Wyoming and Alaska.”
The law won’t let them do it via National Monuments, but BLM says no problem, we’ll just accomplish it through our planning process. The Wyoming rep’s have written to Secretary Salazar to express their displeasure. We should also keep an eye open in New Mexico, to see if similar “planning” takes place here.
Remember when this controversy first hit, and especially when the Otero County Commission held their hearing on the proposed Otero Mesa National Monument? The Obama administration and local proponents said to just relax. All local concerns would be heard during an open and rational process they said.
Well, the final plan just came in for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, 171,000 acres managed by the BLM in Colorado. And according to the Durango Herald Tribune, “Cattlemen are receiving fewer grazing permits and less time on federal land; a large mineral-extraction company is seeing its ability to operate curtailed and, as a direct result, county governments may receive less tax revenue.”
In addition, restrictions are placed on firearms use, camping, rock climbing and other activities. The local BLM manager says, “We’re doing business in a new way” and if folks don’t like the final decision, “they would have to take us to court.”
Now that you know how this rational process works, you can just . . . relax.
Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.