Border Patrol finishes environmental impact study of its policies

The Associated Press
Sierra Vista Herald


TUCSON, AZ-- The U.S. Border Patrol has completed a draft of its first comprehensive look at the effect of its proposals on Arizona's environment and has concluded it will have no significant environmental impact.

Environmental activists say they are appalled at the draft study's findings.

The agency's study, a 354-page document, examines the proposed infrastructure for the state's border with Mexico, including the addition of more fences.

The agency wants to increase fences along the border tenfold and wants to add 84 miles of secondary fencing to place a second hurdle for illegal immigrants as they make their way north.

The environmental study includes projects already under way, such as the new border station in Douglas, but until now, the agency has only done studies on a project-by-project basis. The new study is the first cumulative overview -- something environmental activists say was long overdue.

"It really should've been done quite a few years ago. At this point they're looking at things truly as a crisis," said Brian Segee, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

He and other activists say the Border Patrol's findings seem illegitimate.

"It's blatantly obvious that the Border Patrol is not in compliance with environmental laws, and if they're not going to comply with the law by themselves, then we're going to make them comply with the law," said Chris Ford, co-director of the Border Action Network.

Ford and Segee point to proposals to keep lights on 10 to 12 hours a day, which they claim will hurt nocturnal animals. They also noted that animals that migrate between the two countries, like the jaguar, will be affected by the fencing.

Border Patrol officials said the proposed projects still need approval on an individual basis from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with monitoring compliance with environmental laws.

"We cannot turn one spoonful of earth based on the environmental documentation represented by the Environmental Impact Statement," said Jim Caffrey, the Border Patrol's chief of program management. "Before we did a specific project, we'd put together a specific environmental assessment, and that would go to Fish and Wildlife, and they'd tell us what additional steps we need to take."

He said his agency believes that efforts to stop illegal immigration, and the damage that is sometimes caused by border crossers, will actually help the environment.

Mike Coffeen, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said the agency would work with the Border Patrol. But he noted that some of the projects are 10 years away, and his agency doesn't evaluate the effects until the Border Patrol has funding.


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