(Gains cited in control of smuggling along border)  (610)

By Jim Fuller

USIA Science Writer

Washington -- A major federal study says significant gains have been made in

controlling drug smuggling and illegal immigration along the southwest

border of the United States with little adverse impact on the environment.

The environmental impact study, prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of

Engineers, said that various military support activities, ranging from

reconnaissance operations to the building of roads, produced no significant

impacts on terrain and resources along the 3,200-kilometer-long U.S.-Mexico

border from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California.

Officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and a joint

military task force reported November 30 that these support activities were

necessary to help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies counter

the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants into the United States.

The study, known as the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement -- the

largest report of its type ever prepared by the Corps of Engineers --

discussed the impacts of these activities on the biological and cultural

resources and the threatened and endangered species of the border region.

A military task force made up of personnel from the Army, Navy, Marines and

Air Force was responsible for conducting the support activities during the

past five years.

"These operations literally laid the groundwork for making unprecedented

gains in border enforcement against drug smuggling and illegal

immigration," INS Commissioner Doris Meissner told reporters at a signing

ceremony marking completion of the environmental impact study.


According to the study, the task force provided, among other things, eight

kilometers of lighting, 51 kilometers of reinforced fencing and 1,280

kilometers of access roads.  It also provided technical and logistical

support for airborne reconnaissance, terrain mapping, imagery and

intelligence analysis.

"In other words," Meissner said, "the joint task force provided the

equipment operators, the technicians...and other support specialists to

make the necessary physical improvements in the border environment so that

our patrol agents a better job in preventing smuggling and

illegal immigration."

The study said these activities produced no significant negative impact on

the environment along the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes the southern

borders of four states -- Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

A Corps of Engineers spokesman said that a number of re-seeding and

re-planting projects were initiated in areas where activities impacted on

the critical habitat of sensitive species.

Some environmental organizations expressed concern that the engineers, as

part of road construction activities, cleared about 1,000 hectares of

wildlife habitat consisting primarily of semidesert grasslands.

The report emphasized, however, that this amount of land is not

significantly large when one considers that the task force operated in a

region that overall included about 16 million hectares.  It also noted that

the majority of the cleared land had already been disturbed from the

earlier construction of roads.

According to the report, the land-clearing operation destroyed or disturbed

seven specimens of two federally protected cacti species and one specimen

of federally protected vine species, but did not jeopardize their continued


The report emphasized that engineering activities in the border region also

had beneficial effects.  It noted, for example, that surveys for protected

species prior to construction projects resulted in a vast expansion of

knowledge concerning the distribution of the species.

Additionally, it said, the habitats of birds such as the California

gnatcatcher, the least Bell's vireo and the California least tern were

protected and enhanced as a result of task force actions taken near San