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March 04, 2013

Too Many Tracks


By Dan Millis, Grand Canyon Chapter Borderlands Campaign Organizer

[Click on the image above to watch the Borderlands Campaign's new video, Too Many Tracks.]

It's always nice to have friends who can fly.

Arizona's protected natural borderlands have been hammered by a massive security buildup costing billions of taxpayer dollars. Some 650 miles of walls and barriers, most of it erected in the past decade, fragment desert gems like the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Below left, the border wall at San Pedro; at right, the barrier at Organ Pipe.


Then there are the Border Patrol trucks—thousands of them. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports nearly 8,000 miles of unauthorized roads and vehicle tracks, and that's just on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. You might blame cross-border smuggling vehicles for the damage, but you'd be mostly wrong. The number of smuggler vehicles crossing these areas is almost nil thanks to the barriers, but damage from tire tracks, ruts and wildcat roads has increased dramatically.


On a conference call with Sierra Club Borderlands Team volunteers from across the U.S., I complained about how difficult it is to get a handle on the widespread destruction. Arizona's wild borderlands are notoriously remote, and some areas are closed to the public for security reasons.

That's when Tucson volunteer John Pifer asked, "Would it help to get up in an airplane and have a look around?"

Heck yes, it would.


John took me and Cyndi Tuell of the Center for Biological Diversity to a local airfield to meet Charles Curtis, who has made his living flying survey missions in small aircraft. We lifted off over a purple dawn, and soon had a birds-eye-view of fragile Sonoran Desert wilderness.


From the air, the Border Patrol's footprint is clear.

Photo by John Pifer

Although recreational off-roading is prohibited at Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta, both of which are more than 90 percent designated roadless wilderness, many areas have the look of an all-terrain racetrack.

Photo by John Pifer

Some roads have more than a dozen parallel tracks, rutting out a bumpy, dusty super-highway. A series of curly-Q turnarounds juts out far from the road along the border wall. T-intersections have so many shortcuts they look like cobwebs.

Map courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Above, road incusrions in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge; below, the same in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Map courtesy of National Park Service

We put our video footage and photo stills into the able hands of Steev Hise, filmmaker for Sierra Club's Wild Versus Wall. The result is our new short film, Too Many Tracks. Through the film, we invite you to come fly with us, and we urge you to take action.

Border-fencePhoto by Jeff Foot

Learn more about the Sierra Club's borderlands campaign.

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