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Environmentalists: Nature in Crossfire of Border War

Trash, food and belongings left behind by immigrants crossing the border into the United States from Mexico.
Ted Robbins, NPR
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Trash, food and belongings left behind by immigrants crossing the border into the United States from Mexico.

Millions of people enter the United States by avoiding inhabited areas, crossing through fragile desert and mountain ecosystems. In their wake, they burn wood, leave trash and create trails. And pursuing them, the Border Patrol chews up the landscape with motorcycles, ATVs and SUVs.

Some of America's most environmentally sensitive land lies along the border with Mexico. Environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife say the situation is outrageous. The problem is evident in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a striking grassland and desert surrounded by mountains in southern Arizona. The scenic vistas also include scattered garbage, old clothes and signs of erosion.

Border Patrol officials say their agents only go off-road to follow foot or tire tracks, pursuing those who cross the border illegally. David Bemiller, the public lands liaison for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, said, "There's certainly a huge impact on public lands as a result of illegal aliens." But, he added, the border patrol now has policies to minimize the impact.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.