A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that since the 1990s, illegal trafficking has "substantially" increased over the 40 percent of borderlands the Deparatment of Agriculture and Border Patrol control, and that environmental and historical restrictions have hampered the Border Patrol's access to those areas. However, it said better interagency agreements could solve some of those access problems.
"Certain land management laws present some challenges to Border Patrol's operations on federal lands, limiting to varying degrees the agency's access to patrol and monitor some areas," the report said. "With limited access for patrols and monitoring, some illegal entries may go undetected."
Although both the land management and security agencies have an incentive to keep drug cartel operatives out of federally protected property -- in addition to their other illegal activities, the smugglers do serious environmental damage, the report said -- they often find themselves at cross-purposes in operational terms.
As the cartels turned to federal lands to avoid law enforcement, the Border Patrol has sought to increase its patrols and the presence of surveillance equipment, the report said. That stepped up activity has hurt the ability of agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to carry out their environmental duties, such as limiting vehicle traffic, the report said. It noted that something as simple as a tire track from a patrol can disrupt the flow of water from slopes and mountain ranges, disrupting the fragile desert ecosystem by depriving plants that would normally feed wildlife. For the Border Patrol, tracking the cartels has been complicated by a series of land management requirements, despite a 2006 memorandum of understanding intended to guide its operations. The report said that 17 of the 26 stations in charge of protecting the borderlands reported that when they have tried to access portions of federal delays, they have faced numerous delays.
The report's recommended solutions for all of the issues it identified centered on better communication among the various agencies operating along the border. To address the land management bureaus' concerns, it called for better training for the Border Patrol, in order to make agents more aware of ways they can modify patrols to lessen their environmental impact. To address the delays in Border Patrol access to federal lands, the report recommended that the agencies enter into agreements that would allow the agency to pay for faster property assessments and for needed infrastructure upgrades, such as road repairs. The GAO found that the land management agencies lack the personnel and funding to address such tasks at a satisfactory pace, and that some Border Patrol units have already developed effective resource-sharing agreements. The report also called for the agencies to develop access agreements at the broad, programmatic level, where overall management objectives are defined, rather than on a case-by-case basis.