Category Archives: Otay Mountain Wilderness Area

>Mexico, U.S., Canada to protect wilderness across borders

>from NATGEO Newswatch
7 November 2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Merida, Mexico | Canada, Mexico, and the United States have become the first countries to agree formally to cooperate on wilderness conservation measures across a continent, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón announced.

Calderón made the announcement of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation for Wilderness Conservation between the three countries during his speech at the opening ceremony of the 9th World Wilderness Congress (WILD9), in Merida, Mexico last night.

“This Agreement will facilitate the sharing of successful experiences, monitoring, and training of human resources, as well as the financing of projects that will protect and recover wild areas,” President Calderón said.

The MOU provisions address ecosystems, migratory wildlife, and natural resources that do not start and end with geographical boundaries, the organizers of the WILD9 conference reported in a statement. “This MOU also encourages cooperative efforts to conduct and share scientific research.”

Signed in the three national languages of English, Spanish and French, the agreement is cross-cultural, and respects native approaches to conserving wild nature, accommodation for indigenous customs, priorities for species survival, and national environmental policy, the statement added.

Seven agencies responsible for wilderness management signed the MOU: the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources through the National Commission on Protected Areas (CONANP) of the United Mexican States; the Parks Canada agency of the Government of Canada; the National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of Interior, and the Forest Service and Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The MOU process was facilitated by the WILD9 executive committee and is the result of 18 months of work by the North American Governmental Advisory Committee chaired by Ernesto Enkerlin-Hoeflich, National Commissioner, CONANP, in Mexico.

“Mexican legislation currently allows for incorporating the concept of wilderness in our protected area operations and private lands certification,” Enkerlin-Hoeflich said. “We are close to having it formally incorporated into environmental law. This MOU builds on our tradition of trilateral cooperation. It will greatly benefit Mexico as it shares and learns from the Canadian and U.S. experiences such that wilderness conservation, while respecting each country’s institutions and regulations, works seamlessly in North America.

The National Geographic Society is a sponsor of WILD9.

>Bulldozing nature

>
From SignOn San Diego.com by the San Diego Union-Tribune

LOCAL PERSPECTIVE
Bulldozing nature
By Char Miller

2:00 a.m. February 14, 2009

President George W. Bush is history. But the past has a funny way of maintaining a tight grip on the present. Just ask anyone who cares deeply about the pristine remnants of Southern California’s ancient landscape, such as the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area. Bulldozers are now rumbling through the sanctuary in eastern San Diego County, prepping the ground so that the infamous border wall can slice across its stunning array of desert scrublands, steep canyons and rugged high ground.

The small reserve – it encompasses only 18,500 acres – was established in 1999, but despite its limited size it is of crucial significance. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, San Diego contains the greatest number of threatened or endangered species in the continental United States and its high desert in particular is home to many of them. These include the Quino checkerspot butterfly, the arroyo toad and the Otay Mesa spreading mint. This often bone-dry terrain is also vital for migratory mammals such as the javelina, whose search for food, water and shelter knows nothing of national boundaries.

Sadly, this viable habitat and the rich biodiversity it has sustained for millennia are under attack. In December, Michael Chertoff, then the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, waived the Wilderness Act and a host of other protective legislation so that a contractor could scrape clean this untrammeled area. Site preparation for the border wall’s construction, which includes constructing a hardened roadway, has continued ever since.

Already, the impact is pronounced. Even in the unlikely event that the Obama administration quickly issues a stop-work order, and local environmentalists hope he will, the initial cuts for the road and fence are of such a magnitude, observed Nathan Trotter, a local activist who toured the area in late January, “that the resources needed to restore the area would be immense.”

None of this destruction needs to occur. The Border Patrol itself did not think the wall was necessary in the Otay wilderness. Richard Kite, a spokesman for the agency’s San Diego office, told reporters in 2006 after Congress passed the Safe Fence Act: “It’s such harsh terrain it’s difficult to walk, let alone drive. There’s no reason to disrupt the land when the land itself is a physical barrier.”

The EPA also cast doubt on the project. In a February 2008 letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, it indicated that the proposed plan was insufficient on two counts. It objected to “the filling of two well-developed riparian corridors in Copper and Buttewig canyons and has concerns regarding high potential for significantly increasing erosion in the watershed from the combination of road widening, new vehicle trail construction, fence installation on steep slopes, and fence installation across intermittent streams.” The EPA predicted these intrusions would “have unacceptable adverse impacts under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, especially considering cumulative impacts from other border fence projects that are proposed in the Tijuana River Watershed. These impacts must be avoided to provide adequate protection for the environment.”

Wilderness advocates were much more blunt in their denunciation of the administration’s decision to savage the Otay – by blasting its canyon walls, trucking out more than 500,000 cubic yards of fill, and grading and leveling a 150-foot-wide swath on which to erect the wall.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, lambasted the presidential decision: “Wilderness areas are designated by Congress specifically to protect sensitive places from projects like this road construction. This road sets terrible precedent and clearly demonstrates the dangers of granting the secretary of homeland security authority to waive any law in order to build walls along our international borders.” As Matt Clark, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, asserted: “Such harmful impacts to wilderness characteristics and values are clearly inconsistent with the congressional intent of the law that established the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area in 1999. The waiver and the wall are an affront to our nation’s laws and natural heritage.”

The Bush administration ignored these principled arguments and in doing so the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, like countless other sensitive ecosystems along the U.S.-Mexico border, has paid a heavy price.

We are paying, too: By compromising the Otay’s historic function as wildlands and cutting off the javelina from its primeval habitat, and by serving as a tool for subverting national environmental regulations, the Bush wall casts a long shadow over contemporary American politics. What a grim and costly legacy.

Miller is visiting professor of environmental analysis and history at Pomona College in Claremont. He is author of “Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas: Land and Life in South Texas.”

>Conservation Groups call for Halt to Road-Building in Borderlands Wilderness Area

>
Project is first use of Real ID Act waiver allowing construction in designated wilderness

7 January 2009

Contacts:
Kim Vacariu, Wildlands Network 575-557-0155
Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife 520-623-9653
Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club 512-477-2152
Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society 202-429-2672

Otay Mesa, CA –With little advance notice, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun bulldozing a road inside a federally-designated wilderness area on the U.S.-Mexico border. Apparently not wishing to attract national attention to the controversial project, DHS made the construction start-up announcement through its contractor on Christmas Eve. According to DHS, the road-building project is necessary to build a border wall within and immediately to the south of the 18,500-acre Otay Mountain Wilderness Area on the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Diego.

The rugged terrain of the wilderness area will require blasting and removal of 530,000 cubic yards of rock, and extensive grading and leveling in order to build the wall and the accompanying road, says Sukut Construction, the contractor doing the work. Plans for the project note that much of the five-mile patrol road and approximately 1,300 feet of the primary pedestrian fence would extend into the Otay Mountain Wilderness.

(Photo of DHS road/border fence cut through Otay Mountain Wilderness by Roy Toft, International League of Conservation Photographers, January 2009)

Because motorized equipment, new roads and permanent human structures are not permitted within a federally-designated wilderness area, the Wilderness Act was among the 36 laws waived by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff in April 2008 in order to expedite border wall construction. The controversial waiver was authorized under the Real ID Act, which allows the Secretary to exempt DHS from any and all laws that might interfere with construction of the border wall and associated access roads.

“Wilderness areas are designated by Congress specifically to protect sensitive places from projects like this road construction,” said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “This road sets terrible precedent and clearly demonstrates the dangers of granting the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to waive any law in order to build walls along our international borders.”

The project now moves forward despite DHS documentation that “Construction of the fence, staging areas, and patrol road…will result in a barrier to movement for large non-flying animals and general loss of wildlife habitat.” According to Matt Clark, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, “Such harmful impacts to wilderness characteristics and values are clearly inconsistent with the Congressional intent of the law that established the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area in 1999. The waiver and the wall are an affront to our nation’s laws and natural heritage.”

When Congress passed the Secure Fence Act (SFA) in 2006, mandating that 670 miles of border fence be constructed by the end of 2008, San Diego Sector Border Patrol spokesman, Richard Kite, said, “…at the (Otay) mountain range, you simply don’t need a fence. It’s such harsh terrain it’s difficult to walk, let alone drive. There’s no reason to disrupt the land when the land itself is a physical barrier.” Kite’s experience and reasoning, along with the language of the SFA itself, which does not require walls on slopes with more than a 10% grade (such as most of those in the project area), has apparently been ignored by DHS as it now attempts to speed up border wall construction.

“The frantic pace of wall building along the U.S.-Mexico border completely ignores the project’s serious environmental consequences to wildlife, wildlands and the general ecology of the borderlands region,” says Kim Vacariu, Western Director for the Wildlands Network, a conservation group working to protect cross-border wildlife corridors. “The waiving of the bedrock environmental laws that protect our nation’s natural resources is unconscionable. Construction in the Otay Mountain Wilderness should cease pending immediate and thorough environmental review,” he notes.

William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, agreed. “We are very concerned about the impacts this wall will cause to wilderness values at Otay,” Meadows said. “Wilderness areas are among the last places in the United States that are untrammeled by humans, and we believe they should stay that way.”

________________________________________
Oliver Bernstein
Sierra Club
Deputy Press Secretary
1202 San Antonio St.
Austin, Texas 78701
Phone: 512.477.2152
Fax: 512.477.8526
Cell: 512.289.8618
Email: Oliver.Bernstein@sierraclub.org
http://www.sierraclub.org