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The Planet

The Planet
December 1998 Volume 5, Number 10

on the border

Where Wilderness Meets La Migra

by John Byrne Barry

As the Immigration and Naturalization Service beefed up its border patrols close to the Pacific Ocean, illegal immigrants began crossing into the United States farther east. The Otay Mountain region, where they cross, is wild and rugged, says Nick Ervin, conservation chair of the San Diego Chapter. Days are hot, nights bitterly cold. Canyons are steep, water scarce.

More than 30 people have died in this area from exposure or in fires over the last several years, he says.

One of the few pockets of open space along the border in San Diego County, Otay Mountain is a Bureau of Land Management wilderness study area. "It's not visually spectacular," says Ervin, "but it's biologically valuable, home to the rare tecate cypress and other threatened plants."

Several years ago, when the border patrol announced plans to build a fence and expand truck trails for surveillance, wilderness advocates raised a racket.

The BLM offered a compromise plan: a wilderness proposal with some exceptions to address illegal aliens - short extensions of the truck trails and some helicopter pads. (Such uses are generally forbidden in designated wilderness.)

The idea was to interdict Mexicans closer to the border so they won't get to the mountains. This would not only save lives, but minimize the fires and keep the canyons pristine. In a number of instances, the small fires immigrants started to keep warm grew into huge wildfires.

The measures taken so far have helped save the resource values and human lives, says Ervin.

Currently a wilderness bill for the Otay is before Congress and negotiations on acceptable language continue.

For more information: Contact Nick Ervin at (619) 565-9582;

Go on to the next article, "Pig Plan Too Chicken"

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