Veteran journalist Stephen Dinan this weekend published the most informative and balanced report to date on the environmental issues at stake along the border. While most environmental groups fight the building of fences along the Mexican border, Dinan found caretakers of the environment down there who said the building of a fence has allowed the desert to sprout back to life.
His report centers on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in the middle of the Arizona-Mexico border.
Michael M. Hawkes, the refuge manager (at least until his pro-illegal-immigration superiors in Washington reassign him), is quoted describing the destruction of the eco-systems of the refuge when 300,000 illegal aliens tromped across it EACH YEAR, leaving behind tons upon tons of trash.
Since the fence went up, he says, only about 30,000 (one-tenth the previous traffic) are coming across per year.
Dinan also describes both his personal experience with -- and resident officials' descriptions of -- the thousands of hill-top observation posts for foreign "spotters" who help guide smugglers of humans and drugs past our Border Patrol agents. Mind you, these are on U.S. soil and allowed to exist by our own Department of Homeland Security.
NumbersUSA's Rosemary Jenks first began climbing those hills a few years ago in a futile attempt to help persuade Washington D.C. authorities, Members of Congress and national media of the need to start clearing out the spotters nests so the Border Patrol could be more successful in stopping the smuggling. Not one TV network has had the guts to take on the story. So, I am thrilled to see Dinan not only find officials along the border who will tell the truth about the nests but to eye-witness them.
Dinan also provides information about the concerns that the fence is creating long-term migratory damage to some species.
I tend to agree with Dinan's overall assessment that protecting our border (thus, protecting American workers and citizens) and protecting the environment can indeed conflict with each other. The fence appears to be both saving and threatening various parts of the ecosystems and wildlife in these refuges.
The answer is not to try to scuttle nearly every effort to stop illegal aliens from crossing the border (which is what some environmentalist leaders tend to do) nor to dismiss environmental concerns about enforcement as frivolous and out of hand (as some border security enthusiasts do).
Rather, Dinan's article points to the need for creative thinking and experimentation on how to continue to reap the rewards of the fence while mitigating the problems. By the sounds of Dinan's article, refuge manager Hawkes seems dedicated to both. We certainly need more of that kind of leadership.
Preventing millions of illegal aliens from pounding down and trashing our borderlands each year is one of the most important acts of environmental protection down there. We need leaders who will help our Border Patrol be even more aggressive and effective in their jobs while providing them with methods that leave the lightest footprints.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA. He was one of the nation's first environment-beat newspaper reporters in the 1960s and won a number of journalism awards for his reporting on environmental issues.
Updated: Mon, Oct 26th 2009 @ 11:58am EDT