Public Lands Under Threat
Swimming on the pristine beaches of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod National Seashore. Camping in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert (pictured at right). Boating with alligators in the Everglades. As Americans, we are privileged to be able to share these settings and experiences. In every corner of our country, natural treasures are maintained and protected by the federal government to ensure that future generations can benefit from their unparalleled beauty and tremendous biodiversity. But now, these same public lands are under threat from a bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505) would authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to command control over all public lands within 100 miles of the country’s land and maritime borders in the name of better border patrol. This map helps you visualize how tremendous of an area in size and significance the bill encompasses. Approximately two-thirds of the American population lives in areas that would be affected by this bill.
Extreme and unprecedented, the bill seeks to strip the Interior Department of its ability to enforce the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and dozens of federal environmental laws in these areas. It completely waives DHS’ compliance with the entirety of these protections, not even requiring it to consider the impacts of its activities on delicate habitats, critical water sources, or culturally significant sites.
If this bill becomes law, the Department of Homeland Security would be given “immediate access” to federal public land within 100 miles of the border, regardless of protected status, for “activities that assist in securing the border.” The “activities” are undefined in the bill, but could include permitting construction and motor vehicle use on millions of acres of critical habitat where such activities are currently prohibited, as well as closing off areas currently used for camping, recreation, animal grazing, or timber harvesting. Furthermore, DHS would not have to consult with tribal communities or private landowners before entering these areas.
Think about it in context: not even the bald eagle would be protected if DHS wanted to build roads or fences in areas where this most precious species nests.
Ensuring we have safe borders should continue to be a priority of our federal government. However, it cannot and need not come at the expense of our land, water, and air.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act pose+s a serious threat to the ecological and cultural integrity of public lands across the country.
Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva summed up the bill’s potential impact best: “[HR] 1505 may succeed in decreasing immigration, but only because the water, air and environments of border communities will be so degraded, no one will want to come here.”