Illegal immigration and drug running have destroyed border parklands, further threatened two species on the endangered list and led federal officials to bar visitors and campers in areas considered too dangerous to visit, according to newly released reports.
In studies of two parks that make up less than 90 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service said that the areas have been ripped up with thousands of miles of unauthorized roads from vehicles that have crushed plants and animal habitat.
What's more, fires started by illegals have burned hundreds of acres of forestland and mountains of drugs, trash and abandoned cars and trucks have been found.
The reports, written before the huge surge of illegal immigration in the final years of the Obama administration, were released to Secrets by Immigration Reform Law Institute, and back up the Trump administration's push for a border fencing.
The 2011 studies of the impact of illegal immigration crossings on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge were released to IRLI under the Freedom of Information Act.
The reports reveal that when fencing is erected, human and vehicle traffic drop dramatically and help the impacted areas recover. Just last week, the nation's former top Border Patrol agent testified before a Senate committee that more recent fencing in the area cut illegal traffic 94 percent and "actually allowed for the rejuvenation of areas that had previously been devastated due to heavy illegal pedestrian and vehicular traffic."
The focus on the damage done to protected ecosystems by illegal immigration could help the Trump administration push back on worries from environmental groups that a border fence or wall would hurt endangered species.
While those claims are based simply on concerns a wall would run through habitat areas of endangered species, possibly disrupting how they travel or grow, the two FOIA'd reports are in depth studies of the real impact of illegal immigration and demonstrate the value of a wall to protecting endangered species, rare plant life as well as visitors and campers.
Both agencies said that much of the damage is done by illegals traveling in cars and trucks, and especially when they get into chases with border agents.
The National Park Service, for example, said that fences "have reduced the illegal access by vehicles through the desert and have almost eliminated high speed pursuits on Hwy 85" that runs through Organ Pipe.
The FWS said with a fence, Border Patrol chases would be reduced. Damages, it said, "would not be occurring if illegal activity were not occurring in the area."
Other key findings in the reports:
— Some 7,968 miles of unauthorized vehicle roads and trails were mapped in Cabeza Prieta.
— It has further endangered the Sonoran pronghorn in both areas, of which there were just 21 in 2002. "Our concern is that smuggling and interdiction activities have resulted in significant impacts to wilderness character, and put other trust resources such as the federally endangered Sonoran pronghorn at risk."
— "Past research of vehicle use in off-road areas have demonstrated significant impacts to soils, plants, and wildlife. Many of the direct and indirect effects currently occurring on the refuge are yet to be quantified. Direct impact concerns include: soil compaction, increased soil erosion, damage to soil crusts, altered hydrological processes, disruption of migration patterns for Sonoran pronghorn and other wildlife, wildlife mortality, damage to vegetation from vehicle impacts, damage to cultural resources and degradation of wilderness values. Indirect impact concerns include: alteration to the entire biotic community within CPNWR."
— In the Organ Pipe Cactus wilderness, "the effects of these activities are visible throughout the monument. We have documented thousands of miles of unauthorized roads and trails. We also deal with trash, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, vandalism, invasive plants and animals, altered ecological processes and degraded habitats."
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org