We read with interest the latest on BLM’s plan to “manage” the ecological resources of Ironwood Forest National Monument. This sweet little patch of Sonoran Desert saves the last little bit of cactus ferruginous pygmy owl habitat in Pima County, has the last herd of desert bighorn sheep indigenous to the Tucson Basin, and provides habitat to the Nichols turk’s head cactus, known from only four sites in the world. It’s a pretty special place.
It is also a place where off-roaders from Tucson and Phoenix go to off-road, where miners go to mine, where ranchers stay to stake their claim and run a few cattle each year. It’s a desperate piece of desert, not someplace you’d want to get stuck in July, but it’s a national monument! That’s gotta be worth something, doesn’t it?
Not to the BLM. And not, it appears, to the Border Patrol. It’s true that the usual extractive users are all vying for a piece of Ironwood Forest NM despite its (alleged) extra layer of protection. But the real issue here is that the monument is the first swath of land north of the Tohono O’odham Nation that can be patrolled by US Department of Homeland Security with impunity. Migrants and other folks cross the border, cross the Nation, get into Ironwood Forest NM and get their rides up the road to Phoenix, etc. It’s created a nightmare situation for resource protection- the illegal activity creates illegal roads, law enforcement uses the illegal roads in pursuit, weekend warriors use the illegal roads unwittingly (or uncaringly), and the roads wreck habitat, etc. etc. High levels of human traffic stress the wildlife and change the wilderness characteristics. There have been recent episodes of deadly violence in the monument, as increased border enforcement raises the stakes of the smuggling game. Ironwood Forest, at a remove of more than 75 miles, is still on the front lines of the “border war.”
The BLM doesn’t control to political or trade circumstance that created this nightmare, but they must manage in context of it. If the BLM ignores the border in their management analysis, they are doing a supreme disservice to nearly 128,000 acres and the public, not to mention failing the letter and spirit of National Environmental Policy Act. If the BLM authorizes extractive use, it is doing so in addition to the extreme unauthorized disturbance that is not likely to end anytime soon. That can hardly be considered legal, responsible, sustainable management. It should come as no surprise.