ACCESSION NUMBER:369269 FILE ID:ECO302 DATE:11/30/94 TITLE:ANTI-DRUG ACTIVITIES HAVING LITTLE IMPACT ON ENVIRONMENT (11/30/94) TEXT:*94113002.ECO TGDRGLD FULLER/te ANTI-DRUG ACTIVITIES HAVING LITTLE IMPACT ON ENVIRONMENT (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. 1 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 could...do 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 existence. 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 Diego. NNNN .