STATEMENT OF WILLIAM WELLMAN, SUPERINTENDENT, ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE GOVERNMENT REFORM SUBCOMMITTEE ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE, DRUG POLICY, AND HUMAN RESOURCES, REGARDING THE IMPACT OF THE DRUG TRADE ON BORDER SECURITY AND NATIONAL PARKS

 

March 10, 2003

 


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the efforts being made by the National Park Service (NPS) to protect visitors and resources in national parks and mitigate the impact of illegal drug trafficking on park borders.  On January 20, 2003, Don Murphy, Deputy Director, National Park Service testified before the Senate Finance Committee on the subject of national parks and border security.

 

The NPS practices and policies are dedicated to preserving its natural resources and providing a safe, clean, and secure environment for its visitors and workforce. We have initiated programs and studies and undertaken actions to address many of the concerns and needs in these areas. The National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, P.L. 105-391, Section 801 directed the Secretary to conduct a study to fully evaluate the needs, shortfalls, and requirements of NPS law enforcement programs. A study team of national park rangers and U.S. Park Police officers was assembled  in  February 1999 and  the final report, The   National Park Service Law Enforcement Programs Study, was presented to Congress on March 8, 2000, in two volumes. One addressed the U.S. Park Police and the other addressed the field protection rangers. Included in the study are suggestions to address shortfalls, justifications for all suggestions, and a statement of adverse impacts should identified needs remain unmet. The NPS is implementing a number of those suggestions as well as a series of law enforcement reforms directed by the Secretary in July 2002.

 

The NPS has Park Police and ranger forces who manage the law enforcement, resource protection and emergency needs of both people and parks. The following programs were identified as already in place or were put into effect:

 

Protecting national parks along the Mexican border is no longer about simply protecting landscapes, plants and animals.  At stake is the safety of our citizens and the agency's own employees as well as the health of some of our Nation's unique natural treasures.

 

While the NPS has the responsibility to enforce Federal laws within the borders of its parks, the NPS's primary mission is not international border security or drug trade eradication. The   Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is the primary Federal entity responsible for international border security, while the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security’s Border and Transportation Security directorate are primarily responsible for the elimination of drugs entering the country. To better meet the responsibilities of these respective agencies, the NPS is working to develop closer lines of communication and cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other Federal, state, and local agencies.  The NPS is creating lasting partnerships so that each agency can accomplish its mission in the most logical and cost-effective manner.  We look forward to working with the new Department of Homeland Security to establish plans of action and responsibility for ensuring appropriate border security in parks along the border.

 

The NPS manages seven National Parks along the United States-Mexico international border, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Coronado National Memorial in Arizona; Amistad National Recreation Area, Big Bend National Park, Chamizal National Memorial, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site and Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. They hosted more than 2,780,000 visitors in 2000.  They share approximately 365 miles of the international border with Mexico and 72 miles of seashore and are directly impacted by increased illegal border activity. Other parks nearby including Saguaro National Park, Chiricahua National Monument, Fort Bowie National Historic Site and Tumacacori National Historical Park also feel the effects of illegal border activity and can document indirect impacts.

 

Great attention has been focused on one national park unit, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where Ranger Kris Eggle was murdered and where threats and illegal activities originating outside the United States grow in numbers. The problems in this park are emblematic of how increased enforcement on the part of U.S. Customs and U.S. Border Patrol, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, at traditional, urban crossings have pushed more border crime onto adjacent public land. In light of this situation, efforts on the ground to contend with the rising tide of undocumented aliens and drug smugglers require ongoing coordination between the NPS and other Federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Without communication, without advance intelligence and information and without these Federal partners, NPS would be unable to protect the lands with which it is entrusted. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other Federal agencies have a long history of working together.

 

Because most of these parks were originally established to preserve some of this country's most unique natural and cultural resources, they are filled with irreplaceable treasures contained in a very fragile environment. Illegal border activity can threaten park visitor and employee safety and damage natural and cultural resources within national parks. In addition, the job of controlling illegal activities is compounded by logistical difficulties. Coronado National Memorial is circled on three sides by ridges rising over 2,000 feet above the valley floor. The terrain itself hinders radio communication inside and outside the park and slows law enforcement backup.

 

In 2001, the U.S. Border Patrol estimates that 250,000 undocumented migrants entered the country through parklands with over 200,000 through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument alone.  The explosion of impacts from these human and vehicular intrusions is already causing serious damage to park resources. Hundreds of miles of illegal roads and trails have been created and huge amounts of trash and debris litter the landscape.  The few sources of natural water have been polluted or drained. In the summer of 2001, 21 undocumented migrants died from exposure after crossing the border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

 

Rangers interdicted over 30,000 pounds of drugs in 2002, up from 20,000 pounds in 2000. At Amistad National Recreation Area during 2002 over 5 tons of marijuana was seized with an estimated value of over $9 million. By contrast 1,300 pounds of marijuana was seized in 2000. In Big Bend National Park more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana was seized within the park in January 2003 - more than all total seizures in 2002. At Padre Island National Seashore smuggling in the park has increased since September 11 due to increased security at border crossings and checkpoints on primary highway routes. At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument marijuana seized by park rangers has risen from less than 1,000 pounds in 1997 to over 14,000 pounds in 2002, and over 150 miles of illegal road has been created in the park, mostly in designated wilderness.

 

Currently, all the land management agencies in this part of Arizona have a reciprocal law enforcement agreement with the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and routinely work together on special operations. Any training that is offered by one agency is made available to others, and the local managers meet regularly on all kinds of issues including natural and cultural resource management as well as law enforcement. For example, all agencies having any kind of responsibility for managing lands or managing the border have been participating fully in the preparation and planning for the proposed vehicle barrier at Organ Pipe National Monument and Coronado National Memorial. 

 

The NPS has two special agents assigned to the Arizona Partnership of the southwest border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) office.  HIDTA is a program that facilitates coordination, including information sharing, between Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies on efforts to address illegal drug activity.  HIDTA also develops initiatives to respond to drug threat assessments.  The two NPS special agents, as well as a third agent assigned to the El Paso Intelligence Center, serve as critical liaisons between the NPS and the other state and Federal agencies involved in narcotics interdiction in the southwestern United States.

 

The National Park Service has responded to the threats along the Mexican border by significantly increasing the number of law enforcement rangers at border parks and reorganizing ranger activities. For example at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, NPS has added 9 new protection rangers, 3 maintenance workers dedicated to border-related efforts (maintaining ditches, barricades, gates, patrol roads) and one clerk to assist the protection staff, using $900,000 provided by Congress in FY03 for protection activities.  Additionally, NPS is moving ahead with plans for a vehicle barrier along the entire 30-mile border of the Monument to halt illegal vehicle traffic using $7 million recently appropriated by Congress. Planning for that project is well underway and construction of the barrier is expected to begin by late 2003. The need for additional staffing at Amistad NRA will be accomplished through internal reprogramming of FY03 regional funds. The FY04 Intermountain Region border park law enforcement priorities reflect an additional 14 ranger positions. Big Bend National Park was authorized to begin the process of hiring seasonal ranger staff to work during the busy winter months.

 

The Intermountain Region has redirected an additional $100,000 in base funds for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Coronado National Memorial in FY04 to fund personnel and supplies necessary to maintain the vehicle barriers in both parks. The Regional Director provided $60,000 in FY03 to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to establish an extensive sensor program to detect intrusions. The region committed $35,000 for training for regional special event and incident management teams in FY03. These teams comprise the region's first response capability for tactical operations/staffing support and incident management.

 

Increased preparedness was provided through appropriations for operations in recent years.  Base increases allowed for additional patrol of facilities, trained operators of security equipment, dispatch staff, and training at parks such as Mount Rushmore National Memorial, National Capital Parks, Independence National Historical Park, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Statue of Liberty National Monument, Boston National Historical Park and border parks such as Coronado National Memorial and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

 

 

The serious nature of the issues will require constant re-evaluation of the situation so that all resources necessary are available to address the concerns members of the committee may have.

 

The NPS has proposed a new Law Enforcement Reform Implementation Strategy as a way to improve law enforcement effectiveness and safety. This strategy, as well as the plans and activities taking place on the border here in Arizona, is just one part of a broader initiative to improve law enforcement and security throughout the Department of the Interior. 

 

 

The NPS has both the statutory and the moral responsibility to ensure that its 388 units are well managed, for this and future generations. National park rangers have always been seen as a critical element to that mission. Like many other agencies, the NPS will have to use available resources more efficiently to improve our law enforcement program. Even though the Service is proactive in identifying and solving problems, park staff should be able to expect that if help is needed, it will be available. Reviewing and managing our priorities—both human resources and natural and cultural resources—identifying problems and seeking out creative solutions that involve neighbors and partners will go a long way to protecting our parks.

 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.   I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have.