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Border-transgressions bill looks mostly like a means of avoiding environmental laws

Reading the news over breakfast can cause indigestion and raise my blood pressure. When I read that legislation proposed in Congress would allow the Border Patrol to bypass 36 environmental regulations on federal land, I almost choked on my English muffin. 

The impact of a bill often doesn’t hit the news until it passes through committees and a vote nears. Submitted on April 13, 2011, HR 1505 reasons that federal land along the Canadian border is a haven for illegal drug and human trafficking, potential terrorists  and illegal immigration. The bill’s sponsors claim environmental regulations, administered by the Department of the Interior or the USDA, interfere with the Border Patrol’s apprehension of violators. HR1505 would allow the Border Patrol immediate access to federal land, including construction of fences, offices, base camps, roads and use of electronic monitoring devices, all patterned after surveillance of the Mexican border.

I have a particular fondness for the border we share with Canada, including our spectacular national parks. I have traveled these places, hiked across them, and camped in their wilderness. Most of these parks are remote land — places I love where I go to breathe, and offer my thanks for people before me who fought to have this land preserved for public use. 

After I cooled down a bit over this proposed law, I tried to imagine what its passage might mean in practical terms. One of the targeted areas is Glacier National Park. Have any of these legislators ever been to this park? Or driven the engineering marvel, Going-to-the-Sun Road? This road took years to build and opened the park for tourists — who, in turn, fell in love with the need for preservation of wilderness. Open only during summer months, the rest of the year the road is buried under tons of snow.

Not land easily traversed
I wondered if these lawmakers ever hiked trails in Glacier Park through its magnificent passes and then set out on foot cross country? This land is not casual landscape easily traversed. A far easier choice to illegally enter the country would be eastern Montana, where the prairie is flat and within reach of existing roads. Given the terrain, the image of a fence across the park is ludicrous. Or finding someone who tripped a sensor and then quickly “gets lost” in wild country or blends in with backcountry hikers, usually not carrying passports.

Nor do I think our Canadian neighbors would be thrilled at the prospect of ignoring environmental laws. Glacier is contiguous with Waterton Provincial Park in Canada, with the two parks designated as Waterton Glacier Peace Park. This special place is international parkland. Further west, half of Washington’s border is federal land. The same international issues apply. North Cascades National Park and the Okanogan National Forest adjoin several provincial parks in Canada. And to gain access to the United States via the Cascades, a person would need specialized skills and equipment to hike through extremely rugged terrain. Again, this beautiful land is buried in snow during the winter. The only highway through the park is far to the south and often closes in winter due to avalanche danger. 

Quetico portages
Closer to home, I wonder who in their right mind would cross the border from Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park wilderness into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with mischief in mind? I am sure any number of BWCA outfitters would be glad to take legislators on a little trip into the wilderness — and help them portage across the Quetico, where the portages aren’t nice trails connecting one lake with another.

While imaging the impracticality of monitoring our northern border, I consider the Great Lakes as a route for illegal entry into the U.S. This great chain of inland sea is about as permeable as a border can be. And since water boundaries aren’t conducive to roads or fences, electronic sensors would be the only possibility of monitoring the border. 

We used to go to Texas occasionally in the winter to bird-watch along the southern border. There was always the possibility of seeing birds wandering north from Mexico. We don’t go any longer. The last time we were there, we were warned to stay well away from the Rio Grande River. So many monitoring devices are planted in parks along the river that we would be liable to have a little encounter with the border patrol. 

The Border Patrol already has the right to pursue on federal land anyone suspected of illegal activity. Discussion regarding this bill during the last six months suggests HR1505 is one more attempt to whittle away environmental protection policies. A thin smokescreen to hobble environmental protection of land set aside for people to enjoy. And it sets a further precedent to open federal land to logging interests, mineral exploration, and oil drilling.

I would call the whole legislative effort border transgressions.

Elizabeth Nagel is a local writer and photographer who is a teaching artist at The Loft Literary Center. She spent 30 years as a licensed psychologist. Nagel and her husband maintain a blog.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/22/2011 - 10:06 am.

    Huh. We can’t afford to patrol our southern border, which is the bigger “problem,” and someone wants to build a fence to block off Canada?

  2. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 11/22/2011 - 12:45 pm.

    Hear, hear, Elizabeth! Well said.

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