Arizona rancher Jim Chilton testified before aCongressional committee that inadequate security along the border between the United States and Mexico, especially on public lands, has put ranchers and their families living near the border in constant danger. Chilton, who's also a member of the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), testified before a Congressional oversight hearing held jointly by the Government and Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations and the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
“We have been burglarized twice. Many of our neighbors have suffered similar loss of security and property. Our losses have been great and our sense of security in our own country has been severely damaged,” Chilton said. “The Border Patrol must control the border at the border so that citizens’ civil rights, property rights and human rights are protected. Ranchers along the border cannot have peace of mind until the border is secured.”
Chilton said environmental laws, including the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), have “unduly hampered” the ability of U.S. Border Patrol agents to control the border. He said he and many other ranchers have had challenges with federal land managers causing serious delays for the border patrol. According to Chilton, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) two mile wide and 50 mile long San Pedro National Conservation Area excludes any mechanical entry or exit resulting in a drug trafficker’s “dream path to enter Arizona and walk unhindered and hide in heavy vegetation for 50 miles. The only way the Border Patrol can patrol that contraband highway is on foot or horseback."
U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) recently introduced H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, to help improve border security on public lands. The legislation would prevent the secretaries of the Department of Interior (DOI) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from impeding, prohibiting, or restricting the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to obtain operational control of the border. It gives DHS immediate access to federal lands, and allows the agency to waive certain policies preventing it from obtaining full operational control of the border.
PLC and NCBA support H.R. 1505.
“There are millions of acres of remote federal lands along our southern border where border patrol agents are unable to do their job because of misguided environmental policies,” said NCBA President Bill Donald. “Now, dangerous and aggressive drug and human traffickers are perusing the same lands our ranchers live and work on day to day. This bill would allow for the access and surveillance equipment border patrol agents need to protect these lands — and our members.”
John Falen, president of PLC, said while lands under management by the DOI and USDA are crucial to public lands ranchers’ livelihoods, ranchers are suffering huge losses on those lands along the southern border. Livestock stress and weight loss, destruction of fences, broken pipelines, water pollution, hazardous chemical use and dumping and destroyed forage, he said, are not the only damages caused by these drug operations.
“Drug traffickers are well armed. They use traps and aren’t afraid to harm ranchers who are only trying to go about their daily business,” he said. “This isn’t just costing our industry millions; it’s costing lives. We hope Congress recognizes the true lawlessness on our borders by passing this long overdue legislation.”