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The Border Bill (HR1505) would give border officials unprecedented access to all federal lands within 100 miles of our border with Canada. In Montana, that amounts to more than 32,000 square miles – nearly a third of the state. It would allow the agency to construct roads and fences; use vehicles to patrol federal lands; install and operate surveillance equipment and sensors; and use aircrafts and deploy temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases – all in some of the most wild and pristine places left in the United States, including Glacier National Park; the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear wilderness areas; and the Rocky Mountain Front.

The bill would also allow Customs and Border Protection to trump laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The law would eliminate public involvement in public-land decisions and diminish the health of public lands and wildlife. It also calls for the expansion of federal government, federal spending and federal control – all things Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., fervently claims to oppose.

Rehberg contends the law is needed to give border agents access to federals lands. Interestingly enough, the agency doesn’t agree. It already has a memorandum of understanding with the departments of Interior and Agriculture that allows them to work together, and last July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials even testified against the bill, saying that 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.” In the plain-spoken words of one official: “The bill isn’t needed.”

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Dave Stalling, Missoula

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