|While some infrastructure has been placed on federal lands, the Interior Department has prohibited DHS from placing security infrastructure in Wilderness areas – regardless of its strategic location.
According to Jane Lyder, deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Interior Department, “A proposal to build permanent structures within a wilderness area violates the Wilderness Act.” (Washington Times, 11/16/09)
This position was also confirmed in a 2008 memo by Lee Baiza, Superintendent of the Organ Pipe National Monument: “Congress has directed the construction of these facilities and there is a compelling national security issues, but these towers, building, and associated equipment and motorized activities within Congressionally designation wilderness would be contrary to protecting the primeval character of wilderness…the DHS proposals do not fall under the exceptions to the prohibitions of use in Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act, and are prohibited.”
In fact, several of the sites proposed for surveillance towers by DHS were rejected because of “environmental concerns.”
Wayne Lackner, the Border Patrol public lands liaison for the Tucson sector admitted that “while his higher-ups found suitable areas for the surveillance towers, and that they were mutually agreeable to land managers and Border Patrol, there were still ‘a couple places that would have been preferable.’" (Salt Lake Tribune 1/31/10)
DHS had to go through a lengthy process just to be able to place security infrastructure in non-wilderness public lands. According to an Interior Department release: “National Parks Service staff reviewed environmental assessments, biological assessments, site plans, maintenance plans for infrastructure in the park, and participated in site visits to discuss proposed security infrastructure and operations.” In addition, this National Park Service letter states that it normally takes six months for Border patrol to get permits to begin construction of security infrastructure.
It is not the job of the Interior Department to make decisions regarding national security issues. Nor should DHS have to jump through bureaucratic hurdles just to complete security projects.