Environmental Advisor* Across Borders

Presidential advisory committee on
environmental and infrastructure issues
along the US border with Mexico
Paul Ganster, Ph D
Telephone (619)594-3423
E-mail pganster@mail sdsu edu

Designated Federal Officer
Dolores Wesson
www epa gov/ocem/gneb
E-mail wesson dolores@epa goi
                                     December 2, 2009
 President Barack Obama
 The White House
 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
 Washington, D.C.  20006

 Dear Mr. President:
 The Good Neighbor Environmental Board (GNEB), your advisory committee on environmental
 issues along the U.S.-Mexico border, is pleased to provide its recommendations regarding the
 environmental effects of the construction and maintenance of the U.S.-Mexico border fence and
 associated infrastructure. GNEB has members who reside in border communities from San
 Diego to Brownsville, work on environmental issues on both sides of the border, and are well
 acquainted with circumstances regarding the fence.

 GNEB discussed issues associated with the construction of the border fence in its 2006 and 2007
 annual reports (9th and 10th) to the President and Congress. We acknowledged the importance of
 security at the nation's borders and noted the need for better control of the movement of people
 and vehicles across the border in order to protect cultural sites and ecosystems from the effects of
 both unauthorized transit and law enforcement activities. We also recommended that a mix of
 technology  and personnel be deployed along rural border areas to protect habitat connectivity
 and fragile species.

 While we recognize that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was mandated by
 Congress to rapidly build the border fence, and that the border fence has had some positive
 outcomes and is appropriate in targeted areas,  the construction has caused negative impacts to
 natural and  cultural resources, as is described below in the background section. While we
 commend the recent decision by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to place a
 moratorium on further fence construction, we offer the following recommendations regarding
 border fence infrastructure projects:

1) Require that all border security infrastructure projects fully comply with the National
   Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as all other laws including environmental,
   historic, and archeological preservation laws.

2) Work with Congress to amend the REAL ID Act of 2005 to remove the provisions
   allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive legal requirements.

3) Fully incorporate adequate environmental review, public participation, and scientific
   analysis into the design and implementation of all border security infrastructure projects.

4) Facilitate review by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) of
   projects that may cause deflection or obstruction of the normal flow of rivers or their
   flood flows,  ensuring continued compliance with the 1970 Boundary Treaty between
   the U.S. and Mexico and other international agreements.

5) Systematically monitor the entire fence and supporting infrastructure for effects
   resulting from its construction and develop actions to modify, redesign, or mitigate the
   negative outcomes realized or anticipated by the existing construction.

6) Provide sufficient annual funding via the DHS budget for monitoring, research, and
   mitigation of the environmental impacts of the border fence.

7) Obtain adequate local stakeholder input for all fence construction, mitigation, and
   maintenance as well as for associated infrastructure projects, including access roads.

8) In sensitive rural areas that are important wildlife corridors,  use barriers and
   technology that prevent vehicular traffic, control pedestrian incursion, and allow
   wildlife movement.

9) Aggressively explore the use of information and remote sensing technologies that will
   enhance border security while reducing the physical footprint of interdiction activities
   along the border.

10) Ensure adequate funding to DHS/Customs and Border Protection for ongoing training
   for border security personnel about the local natural environment and significant
   natural and cultural resources.

11) Identify and implement best management practices to prevent and mitigate the erosion
   resulting from fence construction and associated infrastructure.

12) Charge the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on the binational
   environmental effects of the border fence and associated infrastructure.


In the 1990s, large numbers of undocumented immigrants crossing the land boundary and a
growing concern with international drug trafficking produced a series of programs to enhance
border enforcement through infrastructure construction and added personnel. These included
Hold the Line (El Paso 1993), Gatekeeper (San Diego  1994), Safeguard (southern Arizona
1995), and Rio Grande (South Texas 1997). Increasing violence related to human smuggling and
drug trafficking and the terrorist attacks of September  11, 2001, saw the U.S. border with
Mexico emerge as a critical component in the defense against terrorism. The push to harden the
border through construction offences, barriers, access  roads, and other components as well as
adding large numbers of law enforcement personnel often brought security agencies into conflict
with federal, state, and local land managers whose core mission was to preserve the land and its
ecosystems.  Many stakeholder groups, including several border communities, accustomed to
active participation in land-use planning and environmental policy formulation, opposed the
large infrastructure projects.

Much of the stakeholders' concern centered on the waiver provisions contained in the REAL
ID Act passed by Congress in 2005. These provisions allow the Secretary of Homeland
Security to waive all  legal requirements, including environmental and conservation laws,
deemed necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the border fence. The provisions were
in response to frustration with the delays  in construction of a 14-mile, triple-layered fence
along the border near San Diego. The construction, mandated by Congress in 1996,  impacted
the Border Field State Park and the Tijuana River Estuary. Following passage of the Act,
former Secretary Michael Chertoff used the waiver provisions to allow the completion of the
fence. After authorization in 2006 of the construction of 700 miles of fencing, in 2007 former
Secretary Chertoff invoked the waiver provisions to allow construction in the San Pedro
Riparian National Conservation Area and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range  in Arizona.
In 2008, he again invoked the same provisions to waive compliance with 35 laws for the
completion of approximately 500 miles of border fence. Each time a waiver was exercised, the
environmental review process was at a different stage.  In some cases the NEPA process was
almost finished; in others, it was at an earlier stage and the environmental process that
continued was not labeled NEPA. Links to public comments submitted in the environmental
processes, responses to those comments, and other environmental documents are all publicly
available at.  http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/border securitv/ti/ti docs/sector. By mid-2009,
about 670 miles of the border fence had been constructed with construction proceeding at
various points along the 1,951 -mile long border. Only some 30 miles remain to be installed.

Another consideration is compliance with the 1970 Boundary Treaty between the U.S. and
Mexico. Under the Treaty, the IBWC is charged with maintaining the Rio Grande and the
Colorado River as the international boundary. To carry out this responsibility, the treaty specifies
that the Commission  shall prohibit construction of works that would obstruct or deflect the
normal or flood flows of those rivers. To ensure treaty compliance, the DHS in  recent years has
provided the U.S. Section with fence plans prior to construction so that border fencing can be
erected in a manner that is compatible with the missions of both agencies.

There have been both positive and negative outcomes from the installation of border fence and
associated infrastructure, which we outline below.

Vehicle barriers and pedestrian fences, along with increased personnel on the ground, have
significantly reduced unauthorized vehicle and foot traffic in some areas with sensitive habitat,
species, or cultural resources.  Examples of areas that have benefited from reduced traffic include
the Tijuana Estuary and its nesting areas of endangered bird species; the Cleveland National Forest
of Southern  California; and areas along the Arizona-Sonora border such as Organ Pipe Cactus
National Monument, the Tohono  O'odham Nation, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the
Buenos Aires National  Wildlife Refuge, and the Coronado National Forest.

The fence and associated infrastructure were installed in some areas in ways that minimized
environmental effects and in a manner that is compatible with local perceptions and practices.
In the Animas Valley, in the  Bootheel of New Mexico, the Normandy-type vehicle barriers
installed may have enabled migration of critical species such as antelope and the jaguar. In this
case, through the efforts of the  Malpai Borderlands Group and local ranchers working with DHS
and the fence contractors, the fence was erected with minimal permanent damage to the
environment. The width of access roads was minimized, staging and work areas were reclaimed,
and the old border barbed wire  fencing was removed.

At other locations along the border, fence design,  construction, and maintenance activities
negatively impact natural resources. Negative impacts include the loss of critical habitat,
fragmentation of wildlife corridors, and destruction of wilderness areas.  For  example, in San
Diego County, construction of the border fence subsumed 53 acres of the Border Field State
Park, contributing to the loss of rare coastal wildlife habitat. Otay Mountain  in Southern
California is a federally protected wilderness and is an important ecosystem  that is home to
sensitive plant and animal species. It now contains  access roads and the fence in areas that
previously contained only natural vegetation on steep mountain slopes. A "temporary"
Normandy-style vehicle barrier across the San Pedro River and approximately two miles of fence
within  the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area have fragmented  critical wildlife
corridors for jaguars, black bear, coatimundi, and many other species, and blocked numerous
desert washes  feeding the San Pedro River and floodplain. The San Pedro River is the last free-
flowing river in Arizona. For Southmost Preserve, located near Brownsville, the proposed fence
would  be on a strip of land running through the reserve, stranding some 700  acres of the reserve
between  the  fence and Mexico. In addition to groves of rare Sabal Palms, the preserve provides
habitat for Texas' highly imperiled wildcats, the ocelot and jaguarundi. In the Lower Rio Grande
region, parts of the fence cut  across pristine and restored habitat that is home to endangered
species of flora and fauna and has a very rich biodiversity. Driving on thousands of miles of
unpaved access roads constructed along the border  fence has also contributed to paniculate
matter  air quality  problems throughout the border region.

Construction activities also resulted in damage to  cultural resources and sacred sites.  For
example, in southern Arizona construction workers disturbed Native American burials in Tohono
O'odham ancestral lands, including burials in the San Pedro Riparian National  Conservation

Area. Tecate Peak, a sacred cultural site of the Kumeyaay of Southern California and northern
Baja California, was damaged by access road and fence construction across formerly pristine
vegetation. In some areas, such as the Coronado National Forest, fence construction has
damaged, and access roads have increased traffic to. archaeological sites.

Poorly designed fencing has not provided migratory routes and instead has led to an increase in
dangerous confrontations. The gaps in the border fence do not always accommodate the migration
of wildlife, while some locations do provide a funnel for larger, more aggressive groups of human
migrants and drug traffickers, placing law enforcement agents in more dangerous confrontational

Fencing was associated with some hydrological problems such as erosion or blocking of
watercourses. U.S. and Mexican stakeholders have alleged that the U.S. border fencing has
obstructed stormwater flow and caused flooding atNogales, Sonora; Sonoyta, Sonora;  and
Palomas, Chihuahua. In 2008, a storm  at Lukeville, Arizona, and Sonoyta, Sonora, caused
flooding on both sides of the border after debris blocked openings in the pedestrian fence in
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Floodwaters that normally flow from north to  south
flowed to the east along the fence and into the Mexican Port of Entry.

Federal, state, and local government agencies have expressed concerns regarding the potential
for increased flooding and sediment loading into the Tijuana River Estuary that have not been
addressed. Some of them, including California State Parks, the California State Coastal
Conservancy, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the City and County of San
Diego, and State Senator Denise Ducheny have submitted written comments to DHS expressing
concern over the environmental impacts related to fence construction on the Tijuana River
National Estuarine Research Reserve. These comments included concerns regarding a
comprehensive description of DHS's sediment-control plan. We are also not aware of what type
of monitoring is being implemented to determine the plan's efficacy. Furthermore, the hydrologic
studies prepared during the design phase of the project have not been made available for public
review, making it impossible to determine what the project's impact will be on downstream
erosion  and flooding. These issues are  the subject of ongoing litigation.

In addition to the negative impacts of the fence infrastructure, invoking the waiver of
environmental and cultural and archeological preservation laws has produced a strong
reaction in many border communities. Border residents have  become accustomed to active
participation  in environmental and land-use review processes in their communities and in playing
a part in the decisions that are important for quality of life where they live and work. Invoking
the waiver for border fence construction has alienated local stakeholders in the border region,
stakeholders who are normally important participants in policy formulation. Despite the efforts
of DHS to reach out to border communities, waiving environmental and other laws, in  particular
NEPA, has had the effect of creating a negative perception in the region. There  is a strong and
widely held perception in the border region that the public's participation in the consultation
process associated with building the fence has been inadequate.

GNEB is confident that addressing concerns raised by local stakeholders through well-tested
methods of community outreach, public participation, and other established environmental
review processes will restore confidence in border communities regarding the role of the federal
government in protecting the environment.
                                         Sincerely yours,
                                         Paul Ganster, Chair
                                         Good Neighbor Environmental Board
Attachment ( 1 )

Note: Federal agency members of GNEB recuse themselves from this advice letter.

cc:  The Honorable Joe Biden                      The Honorable Nancy Sutley
    The Vice President of the United States           Chair, Council on Environmental Quality

    The Honorable Janet Napolitano                The Honorable Lisa P. Jackson
    Secretary, Department of Homeland Security      Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

    The Honorable Ken Salazar
    Secretary, Department of Interior

                                      ATTACHMENT 1
Photo 1
Photo 2
                                                             Photo I: Construction of access roads for
                                                             border wall machinery. Otay Mountain Wil-
                                                             derness. January 2009.

                                                             Photo 2: Border fence adjacent to San Pedro
                                                             River corridor, Arizona, six months after
                                                             construction. July 2008.

                                                             Photo 3. Construction of access road and
                                                             border fence at Smuggler's Gulch near the
                                                             Tijuana estuary. January 2009.
Photo 3

Photo 4
Photos 4 and 5: Border fence on the south slope of Tecate Peak, sacred mountain of the Kumeyaay people.
California. March 2009
Photo 6
Photo 6: Mule deer approaching the border wall in the San Pedro region of southeastern Arizona. 2008.

  Photo?  (Before)
Photo 8 (After)
 Photos 7 and 8: Historical site near the Arizona-Sonora border before and after construction of
 the border wall. An adobe structure visible in photo 7 taken October 2006 has nearly disappeared
 in photo 8, taken December 2007.