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Troubles on the Monument

The Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM) has been in the news lately, shootings real and imagined and drug seizures are making headlines.  Unfortunately the monuments proximity to Mexico and the wide expanse of sparsely populated Sonoran desert that exists in the region provides smugglers and undocumented aliens ample space and cover to sneak into the United States.  Regrettably these are just the qualities that make the SDNM a special place for all Americans who appreciate our nation’s natural and cultural resources.

Most of the crimes committed on the SDNM are in the area south of Interstate 8. The Vekol and Smith Roads are the focal points for most of the illegal activities. Smuggling drugs and people are the predominant offences.  Smugglers use vehicles, bicycles, horses and their feet to carry contraband. Often they abandon the vehicles, horses and bicycles when they are no longer useful. In carrying out these activities they damage the landscape considerably by making new roads and trails through pristine habitat, including the Table Top Wilderness Area, to avoid detection. Some operations are so sophisticated that observation posts are established at higher elevations so that spotters can direct smugglers away from law enforcement personnel.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency responsible for the management of the SDNM is not ignoring this problem. In combination with the Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies, the BLM is leading the effort to stop these activities on the SDNM. Law enforcement presence has increased substantially in recent months and BLM managers have been in the field directing the erection of barriers to prevent vehicular incursion within the Table Top Wilderness Area and the restoration of habitat destroyed by illegal roads and dumping.

Barricade on southern boundary of Table Top Wilderness Area

Restoration is expensive. Building barricades, fixing fences, rehabilitation roads, removing abandoned vehicles, recuing lost illegal aliens and enforcing the law is expensive. This money would be better spent on managing other aspects of the monument such as improving habitat for wildlife or restoring cultural resources.

Currently the SDNM is open to the public but care should be exercised when in the portion of the SDNM south of Interstate 8. The monument north of Interstate 8 is relatively untouched by illegal activities, but access to this part from Interstate 8 should be done cautiously since various spots along Interstate 8 are pick- up points for smugglers.

What can you do to help alleviate this problem?

  1. Join the Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
  2. Let the BLM know you appreciate their efforts and that you expect no less than the best from them
  3. Let your elected officials know about your concern. Do not let them off the hook.
  4. Visit the monument! Do not let criminals and thugs deny your right to use the SDNM or any public land .

Take a look at the following statistics to get a better understanding of the problem. As you will see the SDNM is not the only monument suffering similar abuse. The Ironwood Forest National Monument (IFNM) northwest of Tucson has considerable illegal activity within its boundary.

Law Enforcement and Mitigation Efforts on the Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert National Monument (BLM 2011)

September 1,2010 –January 15, 201 Sonoran Desert National Monument Ironwood Forest national Monument
Abandoned vehicles 3 18
Agency assists-narcotics/undocumented aliens 7 41
Agency assists-other law enforcement 8 20
Camp/layups 12 18
Listening posts/Observation posts 0 36
Narcotic seizures 0 6
Fence repairs 1 11
Road rehabilitation needed 0 29
Signs (missing/damaged) needed 1 9
Trash sites needing cleanup 2 25
Pounds of trash 7,450 23,760
Bags of trash 165 759
Tires 7 58
Bicycles 0 85


Thomas Hulen, Executive Director

Save the Sonoran Desert

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