April 20, 2012
LOS ANGELES — House Republicans are backing legislation in Congress to give the Department of Homeland Security control of more than 50 national parks and forests within 100 miles of the U.S. borders, including in Washington state.
The legislation involves a sweep of land along the frontier with Canada and Mexico, but exempts state land, private property and federal holdings used for mining, livestock grazing and timber harvesting. The new authority would carve through 54 national parks. Among the parks that would be affected are North Cascades National Park and Olympic National Park in Washington; Glacier National Park in Montana; Saguaro National Park in Arizona; and Acadia National Park in Maine. National forests along the border, and areas protected as wilderness, also could be affected.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, sponsored by conservative Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, would give Border Patrol and Customs agents and other federal officials the right to suspend any federal law, including environmental laws, on land managed by the departments of Interior and Agriculture. It would give Homeland Security the right to conduct any activity or construct any facility required to secure the border.
Park advocates say the legislation overreaches, calling it unnecessary because Homeland Security already has the power to suspend laws that inhibit its operations. They say the bill will override 36 federal laws that protect cultural and historic sites, wildlife and valued landscapes.