Legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that is being falsely touted as improving U.S. border security would instead “have the potential to devastate 54 of America’s national parks, historic sites, national monuments and other popular park icons and negatively impact the nation’s economy,” according to a warning issued today by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR). H.R. 1505, the mistitled “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” would gut a century’s worth of proven federal lands protection, potentially opening up millions of pristine acres of national parks to off-road vehicle use, road construction, air strips and helipads, fencing, base installations, and other disruptions.\
This radical legislation introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) would suspend the enforcement of almost all the nation’s environmental laws on all lands under the jurisdiction of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture within 100 miles of the northern border with Canada and the southern border with Mexico. It would change the targeted national park and other federal areas into security zones and leave priceless resources unprotected. Such dramatic changes to the integrity of our national parks and forests would almost certainly damage local economies, which have evolved to depend on the tourism, jobs, and related economic benefits generated by these national assets. Why would families seeking the natural and cultural wonders and transformative outdoor experiences of our national parks choose to visit such Border Patrol-controlled areas criss-crossed by new roads, penetrated by noisy all-terrain vehicles, and dominated by tactical infrastructure?
Among the National Park Service areas that fall within H.R. 1505’s proposed 100-mile zone of potential devastation are Acadia, Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, Cuyahoga Valley, Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Guadalupe Mountains, Isle Royale, Joshua Tree, North Cascades, Olympic, Saguaro, Theodore Roosevelt, Voyageurs, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The combined total acreage of these 15 parks is 21,657,399, nearly 25 percent of the overall footprint U.S. National Park System. They are located within the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.
CNPSR Chair Maureen Finnerty said: “This legislative proposal is perhaps the most direct assault on national parks ever to be advanced at any level in any Congress in U.S. history. It threatens to literally stop all enforcement of several landmark environmental and conservation laws that NPS uses to manage and protect the National Park System and to serve millions of park visitors. The outrage here is that national parks and other U.S. crown jewels could end up being trashed in the name of achieving national security gains that are fictitious.”
Among the 36 laws that would be expressly suspended within 100 miles of the borders with Canada and Mexico are virtually all environmental, historic preservation, wildlife, pollution, and tribal protection laws, including the National Park Service Organic Act, 1916 (the act that requires park areas to be managed for conservation and enjoyment so as to leave them unimpaired); the Wilderness Act, 1964; the National Environmental Policy Act, 1969; the National Historic Preservation Act, 1966; the Endangered Species Act, 1973; the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts; the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, 1979. All these laws are critically important to maintaining the integrity of America’s national parks.
H.R. 1505’s remaining provisions are no less extreme. For example, the bill independently provides “immediate access” to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for road, equipment, and infrastructure construction and motorized vehicle use on national parks and all the other lands under the jurisdiction of both the Secretary of Agriculture, home of the U.S. Forest Service, and the Secretary of the Interior, home of the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. In addition, the bill prohibits these Secretaries from “impeding, prohibiting or restricting activities of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol” on national parks or any of the other lands. Thus, even without the cynical waiver of virtually all environmental laws within 100 miles of the northern and southern borders, this bill achieves essentially the same result, and applies throughout the entire United States, through its remaining provisions.
Furthermore, in light of the interagency collaboration and achievements made under existing authorities, this harmful legislation is not needed. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified on March 8, 2012, that the bill “is unnecessary, and it’s bad policy.” And officials from the U.S. Border Patrol testified against the bill in Congress on July 8, 2011, explaining that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enjoys a close working relationship with the Department of Interior (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows us to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment. We respect the missions of these agencies, and we recognize the importance of preserving the American landscape. Our agencies have formed a number of agreements that allow us to carry out both of these missions. CBP believes that efforts to reduce the number of illegal aliens crossing the border have lessened environmental degradation and have assisted with recovery of damaged resources, and we are fully committed to continuing our cooperative relationships with DOI and USDA to further this good work.”
H.R. 1505 is only one of several pending bills that similarly threaten national parks and other park, refuge, and wilderness lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture in the name of border security. For example, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Kyl (R-AZ) and Representative Quayle (R-AZ) are sponsoring amendments to the authorization legislation for the Department of Homeland Security that would have also have devastating impacts on national parks and other Federally protected lands and are unwarranted for national security.
CNPSR’s Finnerty pointed out that “while the other bills do not have the express waiver of virtually all environmental laws like H.R. 1505, they accomplish essentially the same result by allowing the Border Patrol to make decisions on activities like motorized patrol and construction of roads and infrastructure in national park and other conservation areas. It may be that these bills are too radical for Congress to pass or the President to sign as stand-alone bills, thus making it the far greater danger that Congress will tack the park-wrecking provisions onto another must-sign piece of legislation, like an appropriations bill. All these bills are terrible policy, unnecessary for national security, and must be stopped.”