NPCA submitted the following position to the Senate and House of Representatives during appropriations negotiations in December 2019.
NPCA urges members to take action to protect our national parks as Congress works to finalize FY2020 appropriations bills.
New border wall is currently under construction at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. The impact of the new wall on the landscape is striking and devastating. This is being done using Department of Defense funding without congressional consent or direction. If construction continues, the damage could very well be irreversible.
As currently written, bills passed out of the Senate Committee on Appropriations do nothing to stop this construction or mitigate the damage, nor do they prevent similar projects from moving forward at public lands across the border region. Appropriations bills from the House, including Homeland Security, Military Construction, Defense and Interior all contain language that would restrict the transfer of funds for border wall construction or otherwise ensure Congress retains the power of the purse.
On May 7, 2019, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced a plan to build a 30-foot bollard wall along the majority of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s 30-mile border and 15 miles of neighboring Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, as well as a segment of the border in Coronado National Memorial, replacing primarily existing vehicular barriers.
While CBP opened a comment period that ran until July 5, DHS waived 41 environmental laws covering the project areas on May 15 and contracts were awarded on May 16. It’s clear that the comment period was just window dressing, not intended to have any significant impact on the construction plan. DHS has ensured that even the expertise of land management agencies like the National Park Service is not given the weight it deserves, as is demonstrated by the recently revealed NPS report on archaeological resources at Organ Pipe.
In providing an additional $5 billion in border wall funding and no restrictions on the use of DOD funds, the Senate Homeland Security appropriations bill would not only allow more projects to move forward, it effectively provides a stamp of approval for the projects at Organ Pipe, Coronado, and other public lands along the border.
In addition to the border wall, national parks across the country have been impacted by “surge” efforts in the name of national security. Since May 2018, law enforcement personnel from around the park system have been sent to border parks. At a time when national parks are underfunded, understaffed and facing increased levels of visitation, any loss of staff for any length of time is detrimental to park and visitor protection. Recent news reports show this transfer of personnel is ongoing. However, the administration has not clearly demonstrated why park law enforcement rangers are being sent when we have an agency dedicated to border security – the Border Patrol. The administration has also not accounted for the accumulated costs of travel, housing, training or other expenses incurred by the ongoing shifting of staff.
As negotiations move forward, I urge you to support conference agreements that drop border wall funding, provide restrictions on the transfer of funds or expand the language protecting portions of the Rio Grande Valley to include the rest of our irreplaceable public lands along the border. I also urge you to consider restrictions on the transfer of law enforcement personnel as Congress continues its good work to address shortfalls in national park funding.
There is no question that border security is vital to our country, which is why it’s so important we get it right. We need to look for solutions that are as unique as our landscapes and communities. And ensure the solutions we find don’t destroy the national treasures we’ve committed to protecting. A border wall is not the answer, for our national parks or our border communities.
For More Information
Associate Director, Government Affairs