Interior and Homeland Security Collaborate on Border Protection, Resource Conservation along US/Mexico Border



03/13/2010

Lee Baiza, NPS, 520-387-5849 ext. 7500
Julie Rodriguez, 202-744-4368
Frank Quimby, 202-208-7291

AJO, Arizona. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar met with Department of the Interior and Department of Homeland Security Border Patrol employees at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument today to discuss the progress and cooperative efforts for homeland security projects in the area. The initiatives are part of a comprehensive effort to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

 “At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we have seen that national security and environmental conservation are mutually supporting goals,” Salazar said after inspecting border fencing and surveillance towers at the national park unit with Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona). “Deterring unlawful activity along the border is the best option for preventing damage to cultural and natural resources and minimizing risks to visitors and employees.”

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a prime example of on-the-ground collaboration and cooperation between Interior and the Department of Homeland Security, the Secretary said, noting that at the national level, he and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano meet regularly to ensure coordination along Interior lands stretching across more than 40 percent – almost 800 miles – of the US/Mexico border.

Illegal cross-border impacts, including drug trafficking, have created significant law enforcement and environmental challenges at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and other Interior lands along the border.  They have endangered the safety of staff and visitors, which required restrictions on public access to many areas; damaged the habitat of threatened and endangered species and degraded lands with trash and illegal traffic.  Other Interior bureaus managing lands along the international border include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Their lands have been similarly impacted.

When border security projects are completed, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which has 30 miles of contiguous border, will host about five miles of pedestrian fence, 26 miles of vehicle barriers and 10 surveillance towers with cameras and relay systems that are part of a virtual fence project. Additional Border Patrol agents and tactical infrastructure, and implementation of new technology are assisting park staff in managing resources and improving safety.

A Borderlands Management Task Force brought all federal, state and local agencies along the border together to discuss common issues and to develop collaborative solutions. To offset the environmental impacts of construction, National Park Service staff worked to evaluate, minimize and mitigate impacts on natural and cultural resources in the park.  Collaboration between Interior and DHS allowed for strategic placement of surveillance towers that met security needs while reducing the number of towers by a third. This cooperative effort resulted in substantial cost savings to the government and significantly reduced adverse effects to resources, including wilderness areas.

National Parks Service staff reviewed environmental assessments, biological assessments, site plans, maintenance plans for infrastructure in the park, and participated in site visits to discuss proposed security infrastructure and operations. Park staffers conducted archeological surveys and recovered cultural artifacts found during the surveys.  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument protects 90 percent of the organ pipe cactus’ range in the United States. The monument has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, and as such, serves as a benchmark for monitoring and understanding changes in the Sonoran Desert region. The park encompasses 516 square miles.

Six agencies (Customs, Border Patrol, Pima County Department of Public Safety, Department of Homeland Security and the National Park Service) are also working together to develop an overall interagency response protocol to assure safety on Highway 85 and increased safety in populated areas. These agencies also collaborated to enhance radio communications across the area by consolidating radio equipment in a single shelter on Ajo Peak.

Homeland security projects developed on U.S. public lands along the Southwest border demonstrate that federal teamwork can help to protect the nation while conserving the natural and cultural resources these lands preserve.

As part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, President Obama met Thursday with Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham and a group of diverse grassroots leaders to reiterate his unwavering commitment to comprehensive immigration reform and his continued participation in this important effort.