The public lands surrounding our country's borders contain wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national monuments, state parks, and hundreds of miles within the national park system. These lands are also home to some of our nation’s most spectacular and imperiled wildlife, including jaguars, grizzly bears, lynx, desert tortoise, Florida panther, ocelot, bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, and hundreds of bird species.
Unfortunately, many Members of Congress are attempting to pit the protection of these fragile lands and creatures against the need for border security. This became even clearer on October 5, when the House Natural Resources Committee passed the deceptively-named National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505) by a vote of 26-17. Introduced by Rep. Bishop (R-UT), the bill would exempt the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from complying with more than 30 laws within 100 miles of any border, land, or sea.
Not surprisingly, the Endangered Species Act is among the many environmental laws this bill would waive. And it wouldn’t just exempt border activities from one or two of the Act's provisions—it would waive them all! In other words, DHS wouldn’t even be required to consider the impacts of its actions on endangered and threatened species or attempt to minimize those impacts. The result? The area covered by this bill, which is so huge it includes the homes of nearly 2/3 of all Americans, would be transformed into a dead zone, and the imperiled species that live there would be pushed one step closer to extinction.
Also not surprising is the fact that this bill is completely unnecessary for national security. Indeed Rep. Bishop never asked DHS if it wanted this legislation and the agency has opposed similar efforts in previous Congresses. The Deputy Commissioner of the Border Patrol has testified that it’s unnecessary. And the Government Accountability Office has found that many borders aren't negatively affected by land management laws, but by factors like rugged terrain.
The legislative trend of exempting projects from the Endangered Species Act based on the false premise that doing so is necessary for safety has got to stop. While these exemptions may seem narrow to some, if passed, they will chip away at the Endangered Species Act until it's merely a shadow of its former self.