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Off-Road Wreckreation Destroys Dune Environment and US Security

Off road recreation pressures destroy environment and national security at border dunes

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snakes in dunes habitat are native species The Imperial Sand Dunes area is one of the few places on the American Southwest frontier where a major highway runs up against open national border with Mexico. Interstate 8 is generally less than three miles away and only 500 yards off in some spots, giving smugglers easy access to a major transportation corridor.

The public has been barred from other federally managed lands near the border, such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, much of which remains closed six years after an employee there was killed by a suspected smuggler.

Off Road Recreation Expands Access to Public Land

Critics say the dunes remain open because of the powerful off-road industry, which is seeking to expand access to public lands and has gained the support of the Bush administration.

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area

The border dunes are part of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, which is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Officials there say they have no plans for any closures. Senior Border Patrol officials say preserving public access to federal lands fits the agency's goal of improving the quality of life in border areas.

The federal government's position on the dunes is different from its aggressive actions elsewhere on the border, where Homeland Security has moved to waive environmental laws and sue private landowners in the name of putting up barriers and tightening security.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Daniel R. Patterson, southwest director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a former BLM ecologist expresses deep concern about the security and environmental impacts of current management of the dunes area.

Off-road vehicle abuse is a growing problem on our public lands, especially in the West. On any given day, there are reckless riders tearing up fragile lands and creating chaos.

Reckless off-roading is creating a backlash among many public lands users, including those who enjoy viewing wildlife, conducting archaeological research, hiking, camping and hunting. Besides causing extensive damage to natural and cultural resources, off-road vehicles are becoming an increasingly severe public safety and law enforcement problem, and taxpayers will be stuck with the bill to clean up their mess.

Solutions proposed by PEER and Rangers for Responsible Recreation include:

1. Penalties that Deter: Today’s infraction fines for off-road abuse are inadequate. Reckless off-roading should be punished by loss of hunting and fishing licenses as well as confiscation of vehicles when off-roaders are caught destroying property or ignoring the law

2. Tough Enforcement: Enforcement against off-road abuse is taking an ever larger toll on over-stretched rangers. Off-roading is fast becoming the number one law enforcement problem on our public lands.

3. End Hidden Costs to Taxpayers: Taxpayers are footing the bill for the damage and havoc caused by reckless off-roaders.

Tightening The Border With Dunes Closure

Those advocating a dunes closure say it would need to cover a 7,842-acre area between the border and Interstate 8, which amounts to less than 10% of the 80,000 acres open to off-roaders -- most of that area lying north of I-8.

Environmental groups have long criticized the administration for placing commercial interests and recreational uses ahead of conservation and for giving off-roaders extraordinary access. Now, they say, such access is trumping even national security.

The Imperial Sand Dunes, stretching 40 miles from the border
to California's Chocolate Mountains,
Rattract more than 1 million riders every year.

Smugglers Increasingly Control The Dunes with Violence

For smugglers, the dunes offer unique advantages. The area shares an eight-mile frontier with Mexico and has great freeway access. Crowd camouflage is easy when recreational enthusiasts visit the area in the winter months, especially on holiday weekends. More than 190,000 people have flocked to the area south of the interstate since October.

Smugglers send teams of camouflaged lookouts into the crowds to roam around, monitor agents' positions and radio the all-clear at times.

Drugs often are brought across in sport utility vehicles and backpacks as they file across the frontier in convoys of up to 10 vehicles.

The Politics of Dune Recreation

Off-roading groups oppose any closure plan. For years they have lobbied to get more of the dunes reopened after closures to protect endangered species.

The Bush administration has favored the expansion of motorized recreation on federal lands in the West, including Yellowstone National Park and the Imperial Sand Dunes. But its plan to reopen about 40,000 acres at the dunes has been blocked by federal courts.

Drug and Security Costs at the Border of Dunes

  • In 2007,Federal authorities seized more than 48,000 pounds of drugs -- mostly marijuana -- and arrested 2,100 suspected illegal immigrants the dunes area,
  • Last year, gun-toting smugglers ordered campers to clear an area.
  • Many off-road enthusiasts question the current policy because they have had brushes with border bandits and smugglers, or have seen pursuits through the dunes.

SOURCE: Read the full story of this dune emergency at LA TIMES

RESOURCE: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, etc. PEER allows public servants to work as "anonymous activists" so that agencies must confront the message, rather than the messenger.

PROBLEM: One veteran agent called the dunes "our nightmare". Violence to tourists, enforcement agents and the wilderness area is escalating. The environment needs to be restored -- and taxpayers pay the bill for reckless, dangerous environmental damage, illegal alien traffic and the drug trade.

SOLUTION: Most agents support a no-drive zone in the dunes. Campers need to be moved north of the interstate.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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