Sadly, anti-environmental members of Congress are bent on dismantling protections for America’s Wilderness areas and National Parks, including for ‘national security’ along our borders (H.R. 1505 and S. 803), and to provide motorized access for those unwilling to abide by America’s Wilderness ethic of ‘leave no trace’ (H.R. 4089).
On April 17, the US House passed H.R. 4089, a bill with the laudable intention of providing continued recreational hunting and fishing opportunities on our federal public lands. However, a key section would allow motorized access, road construction, and even logging in protected Wilderness areas, activities that would destroy the pristine characteristics of designated Wilderness Areas. An amendment to the bill that would have clearly prevented oil and gas development, mining, logging and motorized activity in protected Wilderness failed, while another amendment passed that requires the President to receive approval from a state’s Governor and legislature before designating any new National Monuments under the Antiquities Act, which has allowed Presidents to designate National Monuments for over a century.
Unfortunately, two Oregon Democrats, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, joined House Republicans in voting to pass H.R. 4089.
Meanwhile, H.R. 1505 could come up for a House floor vote soon, and Congressmen DeFazio and Schrader in particular, clearly need to hear from Oregonians about this bill’s threat to Wilderness, National Parks, and wildlife. Simply put, H.R. 1505 would suspend environmental protection laws along the United States’ northern and southern borders in the name of national security. Anti-immigration forces are using the issue to undermine protected places like Olympic and Glacier National Parks, and Wilderness areas along the US borders with Canada and Mexico.
The so-called National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), would permanently exempt border enforcement activities from more than 30 federal protection laws within 100 miles of the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico.
Similarly, in the US Senate, Republican Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl have introduced the Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011 (S. 803), which would effectively give the Department of Homeland Security veto power over environmental protections on public lands within 150 miles of the border with Mexico.
Such a ham-handed approach to a detailed and complex issue such as balancing border enforcement with environmental protection may seem unprecedented, but it isn’t.
In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security used the Real ID Act to waive 36 laws. This allowed the department to construct barriers that now stretch 650 miles across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Sierra Club Borderlands Team is working to ensure that the area along the border that splits the Pacific Northwest does not fall to the same fate of our southern borderlands.