Interior Secretary Says National Security Can Co-Exist With ‘Ecological Values’ at U.S.-Mexico Border
April 23, 2010 - 8:33 AMRepublican lawmakers say the Interior Department is using conservation as a pretext to interfere with U.S. Border Patrol operations on federal lands at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The comments came amid Republican criticism that the Interior Department is using conservation as a pretext to interfere with U.S. Border Patrol operations on federal lands, particularly when it comes to stopping illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.
In an exclusive interview at an Earth Day event on the National Mall in Washington, CNSNews.com asked Salazar if he thought the Interior Department should relax policies that interfere with Border Patrol efforts on federally protected lands (see transcript below).
“It has certainly been the case where we’ve worked well with both Mexico as well as with Canada in terms of transnational cross-border issues that have to do wildlife and national parks issues, and we hope to continue that agenda,” Salazar responded.
“You know, we have a national security imperative [at] our borders, but we believe that the national security can be met at the same time that we recognize the important ecological values that we have across the border,” he added.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the ranking member of the House subcommittee on public lands, told CNSNews.com that the Interior Department has its priorities wrong.
“We already know that most of the illegal drugs are coming over government land -- human trafficking is coming across and so are “potential terrorists.” In the process, the intruders are trampling and trashing federal lands, he said.
“The reality is that if you place land and endangered species as a higher priority [than] border security, you get neither of those,” Bishop said.
Bishop said the Border Patrol has been barred from placing electronic tracking devices – and from using all-terrain vehicles -- in some border areas because of federal policies that protect endangered species and other conservation rules.
There are 20.7 million acres of federal land along the U.S.-Mexican border, including 4.3 million acres that are designated as federally protected wilderness areas.
On April 14, Rep. Bishop joined several other House Republicans in introducing legislation barring the Interior Department from impeding Border Patrol operations on federal lands.
The bill would “prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes,” according to the legislative language.
“If you simply adopted our bill, which says that the first goal is to protect the border, then you will solve that problem and at the same stop what is right now ruining the ecological value of that land, which is all the drug cartels coming across the border,” Rep. Bishop told CNSNews.com.
Rep. Bishop said because of the Interior Department’s interference with the Border Patrol, sections of federal land along the Southwest border are “controlled by drug cartels.”
“The fact is, parts of our national monuments are off-limits to Americans because they are controlled by drug cartels and not by us,” Bishop said. He said what the U.S. is doing right now “does not work, and we need to have a significant change. And if indeed the priorities were different, we could solve both problems.”
Bishop said there will be no way to preserve the wildness areas “until you secure the border” to prevent illegal drug cartels from coming across the land – “destroying it” as they bring contraband into this country.
CNSNews.com: "Last week Republicans introduced legislation that would prohibit the Department of Interior from impeding Border Patrol operations on federal lands. Do you think the Department of Interior should get out of the way of the Border Patrol agency, from, from them doing their, their job?"
Salazar: "You know, we have a national security imperative in our borders, but we believe that the national security can be met at the same time that we recognize the important ecological values that we have across the border and it has certainly been the case where we’ve worked well with both Mexico as well as with Canada in terms of transnational cross border issues that have to do wildlife and national parks issues and we hope to continue that agenda. Thank you very much."
CNSNews.com: "Thank you."