When Border Fences Line Ranches

September 26, 2015 02:22 AM
When Border Fences Line Ranches

By Charlene Finck and Clinton Griffiths

Property rights and rancher safety are high stakes for southwest landowners

Arizona ranchers are no stranger to fixing fence, but the imposing metal and concrete fence that stretches 1,651 miles along the U.S. and Mexico border represents a host of problems for ranchers they can’t fix. The towering fence that reaches up to 21'6" tall was built by Homeland Security to secure the border. However, it’s an often-breached barrier that represents the challenges ranchers along the border face each day. The rocky, arid terrain known as the Tucson Sector is one of the most heavily travelled drug corridors in the country. 

“We have drug smugglers coming across our ranch regularly,” explains Howard G. Buffett, whose foundation owns a ranch west of Douglas, Ariz.  

The metal and concrete fence that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to California drastically impacts Arizona ranches. While it looks intimidating, the fence is regularly breached—but not by immigrants as much as drug runners, either on foot or by truck. Folks such as Charlie Jordan are always armed while on the ranch, and it’s common to find markers such as this backpack under a rock. While the meaning of the marker is unknown, it communicates something to the drug traffickers.

“We see them going north. We see them going south,” he says.

Buffett’s ranching neighbors face the challenges and risks year-round. In the past three years, John Ladd has counted nearly 50 breaches along his property.

“What they are doing is coming in and cutting the mesh and the center post with anything from battery powered grinders to chop saws and bringing in full-sized pickups full of marijuana,” Ladd explains.

When Farm Journal was visiting the area this summer, five trucks breached the fence. One was caught with 117 bundles of marijuana, but the driver escaped. The other four trucks continued north to make their drug deliveries. This was just one example of how the drug cartel pushes ahead regardless of Homeland Security. 

It’s a known secret that U.S. ranches are part of the “super highway” for drug traffic. Trail cameras installed on the Christianson Ranch, the property Buffett purchased in 2014, show a parade of trespassers, most carrying packs of drugs. 

Woven into the fabric of the southeast Arizona ranch country, fourth-generation rancher and second-generation mountain lion hunting guide, Warner Glenn is one of many who wish others understood the complexity of issues that revolve around the border.  

The ranch consists of 2,400 acres of deeded property with 12,400 acres in a grazing allotment leased to a nearby rancher. It is 4 miles deep from the border fence and 6 miles long. Buffett’s foundation purchased the ranch to conduct research on conservation measures suited for the area. As someone who describes himself as a person who likes to learn from experience, the farmer-philanthropist and conservation advocate was also interested in learning more about border and immigration issues firsthand. 

It has been a quick education for the Midwesterner who grew up in Nebraska. As one of many landowners caught in the middle, he understands what has always been a harsh environment is more sinister now. A pistol is part of his daily attire at the ranch, and his employees follow suit. 

Flying over ranch country in a helicopter, we happened upon this apprehension by border patrol agents, who patrol by ground and air.

While in the area, Buffett works with Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels as a sheriff assist team member, meaning he wears a badge and a gun—and assists deputies in their law enforcement work. 

Dannels is well-known for going on record saying the border fence has helped lower crime rates in cities along the border. Even so, the fence has pushed drug smugglers to reroute their efforts through rural areas—putting ranchers on the front lines.  

The winding fence that stretches across the foot of the U.S. has gates that open for the monsoon season to allow water to flow through. The path the water flows up (at right) also functions as a super highway for drug traffic year-round. Border patrol cameras aren’t located in spots where they can monitor the long-established road now well worn with foot traffic. 

Everyone in the area remembers well-known Cochise County, Ariz., cattle rancher Robert Krentz and his dog who were killed in 2010 by a presumed drug smuggler. The murder has not been solved.

It’s no surprise ranchers feel inadequately protected. A common complaint is the federal border agents swarm the desert landscape at checkpoints and along roads but leave the fence largely unprotected—even though the same spots are often breached. While fewer immigrants seem to be traipsing across ranch land, drug trafficking has escalated. 

Trail cams on Buffett’s property routinely capture images of human mules packing bulging cargo walking north to make deliveries.

“Border security is a category of its own—different from immigration,” Buffett says. “I divide immigration into two categories. Some people are going to say I’m biased, but I divide it into agriculture and everything else. I’ll tell you why. Because if we don’t get this right, down the road, all of that nice lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries [we enjoy] and all this amazing diversity, value, volume and quantity [we enjoy], won’t be easy to get.” 

Editor’s Note: Watch for future issues of Farm Journal to learn more about Buffett’s Sequoia Foundation farm operations. 

Watch Howard G. Buffett on TV

Always one to speak his mind, farmer, conservation advocate  and famous philanthropist Howard G. Buffett shares his thoughts regarding immigration and border control with “AgDay” TV host Clinton Griffiths. Behind the camera is Eric Crowley, who traveled with Buffett in 2011 and produced the Emmy-nominated film on agriculture in war-torn Afghanistan. To watch the television interview, visit www.FarmJournal.com/Buffett

Back to news


Spell Check

No comments have been posted to this News Article

Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by QTInfo.com
Brought to you by Beyer