Note: Before they had been blaming hunters and shooters. An active
Cleaning trash left by crossers unites groups
Marisa Gerber Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Monday, May 2, 2011 12:00
am | Comments
BY THE NUMBERS
255 tons of trash removed
77 vehicles removed
364 bikes removed
150 temporary jobs created
2,583 acres cleaned up and remediated
Source: Fiscal year 2010 figures for the Southern Arizona Project
Sometimes weird things bring people together.
In Arizona, trash does just that.
Efforts to clean up the rubbish presumably left behind by illegal
immigrants not only physically unites distinct groups - like the
Pinal County inmates and dozens of volunteers who spent Saturday
morning sprucing up Ironwood Forest National Monument - but also
create an ideological common ground.
Karl Tucker, a long-time volunteer with Humane Borders, doesn't deny
the complexities or divisiveness of the immigration debate. He said
there's at least one offshoot of it that almost everyone agrees on,
though - the trash is a problem.
"This trash thing people get," Tucker said. "Ain't it awful? Yeah,
ain't it awful?"
Tucker helps pick up trash almost every week and said he thinks the
problem has been alleviated a lot over the past decade.
Matt Skroch, who works for a land and wildlife conservation
Skroch, executive director of Arizona Wilderness Coalition's Tucson
office, called the scope of the trash removal over the past decade
He credits the Southern Arizona Project, a federally-funded effort
administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which was started in
2003 to curb the damages caused by illegal immigration and smuggling
on Arizona's borderlands.
The project, which was championed by then Congressman Jim Kolbe and
eventually approved by Congress, gave Arizona $695,000 to clean up
its borderlands - an area that stretches about 100 miles north of the
border. The project funding, which has to be re-allocated each year,
has been raised fairly steadily since its onset. By fiscal year 2009,
the funding was up to almost $1.14 million.
Its price tag isn't the project's only big number.
In fiscal year 2010, the Southern Arizona Project removed more than
255 tons of trash.
And the BLM's Deborah Stevens said it's not just small things, like
water bottles and discarded photographs, that are picked up. In
fiscal year 2010, 364 bikes and 77 vehicles were removed from Arizona
borderlands. Bikes and cars are often used, and then ditched in the
desert, by illegal immigrants and smugglers, she said.
The BLM designates money to county, city and tribal entities that are
affected by illegal immigration, Stevens said, and the entities
decide how to divvy up the funds.
The BLM also contracts with student conservation groups, who hire
temporary workers to help coordinate and work at the trash clean ups.
Although the "visual intrusion" of trash piles gets most of the
attention, Skroch said that's not the only negative result of people
- often, but not always, illegal immigrants - trekking through the
There's also the issue of habitat fragmentation, which he described
as "the slicing and dicing of habitats by roads and illegal trails
that crisscross the monument."
The BLM is taking steps to prevent this type of habitat fragmentation
from happening - at least on federally protected lands. The agency
recently put up about a mile of Normandy-style vehicle-barrier
fencing to stop smugglers from driving around the Table Top
Another recent addition, partially funded by the BLM and run by the
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, is a trash-themed
website, www.azbordertrash.gov. The site, which was started last fall
and is still in its early phase, informs people of upcoming cleanup
events and will eventually hold data and interactive maps from past
As long as migrants trek thorough the desert, trash, too, will be a
In the meantime, people like Tucker of Humane Borders, don't mind the
tangible way to help out.
"In a way, it's a blessing for people to be able to feel that they're
doing something positive.
Contact reporter Marisa Gerber at email@example.com or at 573-4142.