Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Border bill pits security against the environment

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 14, 2011 - 1:17 AM

The Border Patrol would gain unprecedented authority over Minnesota's environmental landmarks on our northern border, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park, under legislation winding through Congress.

More than 30 environmental laws would be waived and the Department of Homeland Security would be allowed to build roads, erect fences, set up monitoring equipment and use vehicles to patrol public lands within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders, according to proposed legislation in the House.

Public land managers in the departments of Interior and Agriculture would not be allowed to "impede, prohibit or restrict" the patrol from controlling the border, under the Republican-sponsored legislation. Homeland Security could disregard landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

The bill, authored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and a similar measure by Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., were written primarily to address human and drug smuggling on the southern border, but both include the northern border, too. A Senate version does not.

The proposals have residents in northern Minnesota bristling, saying the area has few people crossing illegally and the Border Patrol would be wiser to engage more locals in reporting suspicious activity.

"All those illegal walleyes that are coming across? I mean, good God," quipped Ted Young, co-owner of Poplar Creek Guesthouse and Boundary Country Trekking, about 3 miles from the Canadian border on the Gunflint Trail. "We don't want fences, we don't want roads. ... Don't create problems that are not there."

Sue Prom, who with her husband owns Voyageur Canoe Outfitters about 5 miles from the Canadian border, said she's frustrated the northern border has been lumped in with problems to the south: "We don't have people swimming from Canada into the United States," she said.

But the legislation is also about potential terrorists, said Bishop spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin. "We know that there have been efforts by others wishing to do harm to our country to enter through both the north and the southern borders," she said.

Working together locally

If passed, the legislation would mark a significant change in the balance of power among the federal departments, now governed by a five-year-old agreement requiring them to collaborate for minimal environmental impact.

Leaders of federal agencies in the region say they have been working well together under that agreement, both watching the border and protecting the environment.

"We're not aware of any situations where either of us are hampering one another's missions," said Mike Ward, superintendent of Voyageurs National Park.

The departments back each other up on law enforcement missions, sometimes share equipment and often share information, officials said.

"We haven't had this need, specifically, for any legislation," said Border Patrol spokesman Stacy Forbes, based in Grand Forks, N.D.

The current agreement allows Border Patrol agents to patrol areas on foot or horseback without asking, as well as use motorized vehicles in emergency situations, Forbes said his agency typically notifies local wilderness managers, because they know the area best.

"They're the experts," Forbes said. "They would know if there's any type of movement."

Jim Sanders, forest supervisor of the 3.2 million-acre Superior National Forest, which contains the Boundary Waters, said his staff acts as "eyes and ears" for Border Patrol, too.

"It's working well," he said. "Some of their folks were helping us during the Pagami fire."

But in other areas of the country, some former Border Patrol agents complain the agreement in place now -- a memorandum of understanding -- gives an upper hand to park and wilderness land managers. It amounts to the Border Patrol making requests, one former agent said.

"It's a mother-may-I thing, and a request to get in there may take months," said Kent Lundgren, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers. "They allow hot pursuit. That's good, but that does not allow patrol, and patrol is how you find things out."

Agents like to be outside, Lundgren said, and naturally act as environmental stewards.

Subbotin, of Bishop's office, said they expect agents will use increased access only for what's essential to their mission. "To argue otherwise would be to challenge their judgment."

The bill's goals are in lockstep with the Pledge to America, a 48-page policy agenda set forth by House Republicans in 2010. That document contains language to "prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands."

Jane Danowitz, director of the U.S. public lands program at the Pew Environment Group, said Homeland Security officials didn't ask for the legislation and she thinks that's significant.

"We're talking about legislation that would basically, under the guise of national security, undo environmental laws that have been on the books for decades," Danowitz said. "These are popular protections."

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., whose district includes the state's northeast border, said in a statement that international security often conflicts with other priorities such as environmental preservation. He looks forward to examining "a proper balance between international security and Minnesota's pristine wilderness."

No big plans for sector

U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Grand Forks Sector, which covers 861 miles of border in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, increased the number of agents from 28 in 1992 to 213 last year.

In fiscal year 2010, those agents apprehended 543 illegal immigrants, 388 of whom originally came from Mexico. In fiscal year 2008, 78 people illegally crossed from Canada into the sector, Forbes said. More recent data wasn't available.

Forbes said the Grand Forks Sector, which stretches south to Kansas and Missouri, has no plans to build roads, fences or other major infrastructure, though an environmental assessment along the entire northern border is being completed to expedite such plans if needed in the future.

Dyke Williams, who for 25 years has owned a cabin on the end of the Gunflint Trail, less than a mile from the border, said it doesn't matter if there are no plans at the moment. "Pass that puppy and you're going to have plans all over the place," he said.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Team Irvin 32 FINAL
Team Carter 28
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 110 FINAL
Toronto 114
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
San Antonio 101
Boston 111 FINAL
Golden State 114
Washington 117 FINAL
Denver 115
Houston 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 87
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 FINAL
Tennessee St 55
Creighton 50 FINAL
Villanova 71
Northwestern 67 FINAL
Maryland 68
Washington 56 FINAL
Utah 77
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 71 FINAL
USC 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close