Wildlife Refuge Sacrifices Pristine Property For Homeland Security - Tucson News Now

03/04/2003

Wildlife Refuge Sacrifices Pristine Property For Homeland Security

By Bud Foster

The environment has lost a round to homeland security. Managers of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge 50 miles South of Tucson, says it will sacrifice some of its pristine property for homeland defense. "We have to think of terrorism, we have to think of national security" says U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Wayne Shifflet.

Shifflet has spend a quarter of a century trying to protect the Buenos Aires Cienega from illegal immigration, drug smugglers, wildfire and drought. But he lost his battle to the United States Government. "We would be in a position to give up some of that border area for a higher priority use to protect the country from terrorism" he says.

Shifflet is capitulating the security forces amid a rise in violence along the border. Border Patrol statistics show the number of gun related assaults against agents is growing. In 2001, there were 13 gun related incidents. That went up to 30 last year and has hit 16 already this year, with seven months to go. There have been seven violent incidents in the past month.

The question is why. Border Patrol says its crackdown is the reason. "The more aggressive we get along the border the more frustrated the smugglers become. So the resort to violence more often" says Rob Daniels, a spokesman for the new Homeland Security Department.

Others disagree. They believe the border is becoming more militarized and that's why the increase in violence. Shifflet says "militarization is not the way to go." He goes on, "We've been lucky. There hasn't been an incident that raises the incident beyond the local level. But I think the situation is ripe for an international incident along the border."

Just yards from the U.S./Mexican border ATV'S streak along, cutting trails on the refuge. Areas which were once lush, green grass are now barren, staging areas for border agencies. Smugglers leave behind trash, cut trails and paths through what was once a haven for wildlife.

Shifflet has seen the enemy and has surrendered. "I can seen our roles along the border will probably change." After a quarter of century, he can see the handwriting on the walls.

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