March 7, 2006
Mountains of trash, recurring fires, despoiled natural springs, vandalized historic sites and disappearing wildlife are part of the devastating toll of the government's running battle with smugglers and migrants in national parks and wildlife refuges along the U.S. border with Mexico, says the Los Angeles Times.
In southern Arizona, the damage extends to Indian and private land, jeopardizing a broad expanse of the Sonoran Desert, which boasts a greater diversity of plant and animal life than any other of the four North American deserts, says the Times. For example:
- At Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, 2 1/2 million pounds of garbage are scattered through broad valleys and desert arroyos every year, according to Roger DiRosa, the refuge manager.
- Illegal "ghost roads" carved by smugglers and pursuing federal agents crisscross Cabeza Prieta and nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; sections of Organ Pipe are deemed so dangerous that the National Park Service has closed them to the public.
- Cabeza Prieta alone has 400 plant species and 300 types of wildlife, including ringtail cat, kit fox, bighorn sheep, javelina, badger, bobcat, mule deer, desert tortoise, 24 species of snake, 11 species of bat and 212 species of birds; it's only a matter of time, officials say, before these animals' home is rendered uninhabitable.
Federal officials describe the effects of massive trespass as "staggering" and warn of dire repercussions to rare wildlife and sensitive desert, where nature may take decades to erase a single boot print.
"The reason Organ Pipe was created was to preserve the Sonoran Desert," Supt. Billings said. "If we lose Organ Pipe and it becomes a moonscape as a result of these impacts, we lose our heritage."
Source: Julie Cart, "In Border Battle, Land and Wildlife Are Casualties: Collateral damage in national parks and refuges includes trash, fires and disappearing species," Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2006.
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