|"Now is not the time to think!" John Candy, Canadian Bacon|
I’ve spent a large part of my life roaming the wild backcountry of northern Montana year-round – backpacking, hunting, fishing, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. Although I’ve had a few humbling encounters with grizzlies, almost drowned once crossing a tumultuous, spring-fed creek; got buried up to my chest in an avalanche, and experienced a lightning strike a bit too close for comfort, for the most part I always felt pretty safe and secure. I never ran into nor saw any sign of criminals (well, except for a shady-looking character I suspected of poaching a cutthroat trout), drug dealers, suicide bombers or terrorists (though there are folks who seem to consider the wolves I have seen as a threat to our very existence as a nation and a world.)
Apparently, according to the latest fear-mongering rhetoric coming out of Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg’s office, I am lucky to have not been killed, captured, tortured or attacked by Al Quaeda and Hezbollah extremists. But Rehberg has a plan to keep us safe and protect the American way of life – even though it entails sacrificing more than 30 federal laws, acts and regulations overwhelmingly backed by American citizens; will trample rights and eliminate public accountability for land that belongs to the public; will diminish the health of public wildlands and wildlife most Americans cherish, and calls for the expansion of federal government, federal spending, federal authority and federal control (things Rehberg is normally staunchly opposed to, but in this case seems to think is necessary to protect us from evil.)
“Border security is national security, and in Montana that means safety for our families and communities,” Rehberg says. He claims his plan is “absolutely necessary to secure our borders against illegal immigrants, drug dealers, human traffickers and terrorists.”
Rehberg is one of 59 co-sponsors of the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, known as the “Border Bill,” recently passed by Congress. The legislation would give Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection unprecedented access to all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border (In Montana alone, that amounts to more than 32,000 square miles – nearly a third of the state!) allowing the agency to construct and maintain roads and fences; use vehicles to patrol federal lands; install, maintain and operate surveillance equipment and sensors; use aircrafts and deploy temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases – all in some of the most wild, pristine places left in the United States, including Glacier National Park; the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear Wilderness areas, and Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. The bill would allow Customs and Border Protection to skirt laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
Rehberg says the bill will give border patrol the ability to more easily conduct certain activities on public lands in an effort to crack down on drug trafficking and illegal immigration. “It’s time to put an end to the dangerous turf war where federal land managers hide behind environmental laws in order to prevent border patrol agents from doing their jobs on federal land,” he says. "It's not acceptable for Montana families to be at risk because federal bureaucrats can't get along. . . It will end the bureaucratic turf-war that has prevented U.S. Customs and Border Protection from accessing the physical border on federal lands.”
But interestingly enough, U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn’t seem to agree with Rehberg. The agency already has a memorandum of understanding with the departments of Interior and Agriculture that allows the departments to work together in situations that might require the pursuit of suspects or investigations on public land. Last July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials testified against the bill, saying the agency “enjoys a close working relationship with the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture that allows us to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.” One agency official noted: “It's working well and the bill isn't needed.”
So if it’s not really needed, why is Rehberg so adamant about it? The answer likely lies in his reassurance that the bill will not prohibit activities such as gas and oil development, logging, mining and cattle grazing. That would, after all, be consistent with his long-held views and many efforts to remove federal protections of our last remaining wild places.
But as Rehberg well knows, it’s easier to sell fear than truth. Or, as H.L. Mencken put it: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
According to Richard Falkenrath, a Brookings Institution scholar and former deputy homeland security adviser, the best way to prevent terrorists from entering the United States would be to “invest in a state-of-the-art terrorist watch list complete with biometric screening.” After all, terrorists are most likely to enter the United States the same way the Sept. 11 hijackers did -- through airports. But then again, that wouldn’t open up federally-protect wildlands to gas development, mining, logging and road construction – and it certainly wouldn’t protect us from the apparent danger emanating from our northern neighbors.
In the 1995 satire “Canadian Bacon,” Alan Alda plays a U.S. President who, along with his national security advisor, decides to fabricate a threat from Canada to boost political standing and win more votes. In the movie, a news anchor reports on the Canadian danger: “Think of your children pledging allegiance to the maple leaf. Mayonnaise on everything. Winter 11 months of the year. Anne Murray - all day, every day.” A patriotic American sheriff named Bud Boomer (played by John Candy) takes the threat seriously and hastily organizes drastic measures to protect our country.
Says Boomer: “There's a time to think, and a time to act. And this, gentlemen, is no time to think.”
Apparently, Rehberg took Boomer’s advice too seriously.
Apparently, Rehberg took Boomer’s advice too seriously.
Postscript: Fortunately this bill did not pass and Denny Rehberg is no longer serving in Congress.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would affect more than 32,000 square miles of Montana.