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“Border Bill” Crosses to the Senate

June 21, 2012

CHINOOK, Mont. - Border control powers under the Department of Homeland Security would be expanded under a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

The bill was promoted as a way to protect against drug smuggling and terrorist activity - but local residents are raising questions about just how far DHS powers will go.

John Gibson, president of the Montana-based Public Land and Water Access Association, takes issue with how the bill grants DHS power to seize public lands along the border, including Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, while also ignoring environmental laws and recreational access. He suspects ulterior motives to undo land laws.

"Eliminate some wilderness, road some areas, log some areas, allow more motorized recreation and things like that. That's what they want to do."

DHS power also would be expanded regarding environmental laws on private property within 100 miles of the border, including the Farmland Protection Policy Act.

Blaine County Commissioner Vic Miller is against the bill, although he agrees that improvements need to be made in security along the Canadian border. However, he calls the House bill a "big government" way of doing it for the Hi-Line. He also calls it a missed opportunity to involve locals and private property owners who know the lay of the land.

"They would prefer to be a friendly partner, particularly the landowners that are on the border. They know if there's something going on on the fence lines."

The original bill also would have affected lands for five of the state's seven tribes. Although that part of the bill was changed, Kesner Flores, interim director of the National Tribal Environmental Council, says the Senate version has no such exemption.

"They actually are homelands to a lot of native nations who have their sovereignty issues, endangered species and habitat that probably will be impacted by this bill."

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., co-sponsored the bill, which passed 232-188. The text of the measure is online at thomas.loc.gov.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT