Be Aware Of Your Surroundings When Hunting Southern Arizona

The Sonoran DesertArizona suffers in many ways with having an unsecured and open border with Mexico. Intrusion from Mexico, Drug trafficking and invasion by illegal aliens into the United States creates matters of National Security, social and economic disdain. These issues and more certainly is a matter of our concern but is not the goal of our mission to the International US-Mexico-Arizona Border with Field Agents of the US Border Patrol and the AZ Department of Game and Fish.

The invasion into our southern Sonoran Desert, one of kind, has created severe impacts on wildlife, the habitat, water catchments and has increasing impacts on our ability to use and enjoy the southern reaches of our state. Sportsmen and outdoor users are warned by the Department of Homeland Security on the Arizona Game and Fish State Hunting Unit Map “Homeland Security Issues along the international Border may affect the quality of a person’s hunt. Call 1 (800) BE-ALERT to report suspicious activity”. This line extends from New Mexico to California.

The Warring LineBelow the demarcation line we have fifteen hunting units 29-30A-30B-34A-34B-35A-35B-36A-36B-36C-37A-40A-40B-46A-46B, with twelve hunting units contiguous to the line above it 21-26M-28-32-33-37A-39-41-43B-45A-45B-45C.

Geographically speaking Arizona is comprised 113,998 Square Miles of area. My estimation is that a third of our state, some 38,000 square mile is actually plagued by illegal or undocumented activity.

Below the “Warring” line (dotted yellow) we have approximately 20,000 square miles in the affected hunting units area including the pernicious Tohono O’odham Nation which has a land mass of some 11,243+ square miles in the US and claims to have land in Mexico which is interesting since the Mexican Government doesn’t recognize the Nation’s claim to “their” land in Mexico. The Nation has a 75 miles stretch of contiguous open border with Mexico and very has little regard for the authority of the USBP or other US law enforcement agencies and is rumored to regularly support the illegal’s trafficking through the their land. With the new administration moving ahead with building a border wall, the Nation has already begun protesting the wall to AZ’s Senate John McCain.

Drug Traffic moving to O'odhamThis border needs to be secured but presents an interesting situation with a sovereign nation, the Indian Reservation or Nation within our sovereign nation, the Mother Land, putting us at risk. What is occurring as the USBP efforts are successful and shift from area to area on either side of this 75 mile border stretch the trafficking seems to funnel more to the Tohono O’odham section. We currently have observed success with USBP apprehensions east of Nogales causing an Illegal trend shift back to the Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta sections on the more western side of the states southern border.

The SRT Objective Is Landscape And Wildlife Preservation

Our mission objective in visiting the border lands is to access actual damage to the landscape and wildlife habitat (human trails, discarded clothing, trash and debris), the wildlife water catchments and factors that lead to additional stress on the wildlife species and perhaps those listed under the ESA. The vast land mass in southern AZ has been impacted by the use of traffickers using vehicles and heavy foot traffic establishing well used trails and sometimes two tracks where none have existed before In many cases game trails are used to traverse the desert, mountains, hills and washes or arroyo leaving a defined scare on the landscape and pushing wildlife to other less pressured areas. With the enhanced USBP tools of surveillance, trafficking has moved to the more mountain and extreme terrain regions and the canyons, arroyos and washes are being used to avoid radar detection. This is true with water catchments also.

Non-Potable Water Is For Wildlife And Cattle But Harmful To Humans

Water CatchmentsSouthern AZ water is at a premium for wildlife and livestock on open range, ranches or grazing allotments. UDA’s and drug traffickers often run out of water and use stocks and wildlife sources to replenish their supply not understanding the term “non-potable water.” Ingesting the water most often leads to extreme sickness and sometimes death. The USBP often is able to apprehend those who have consumed tainted water, falling ill and requesting first aid though the use of the numerous USBP Call Box or stations or being caught unable to escape and evade the USBP. Whatever the case the human use of these water catchments push wildlife off normal watering sources and move them out of their area.

Litter Is Destroying The Landscape And Environment

Sonoran Desert LitterThen we come to the matter of trash and debris. This litter issue has been a tremendous impact on the landscape. Organ Pipe National Monument has been an example of the illegal trafficking, danger and trash on the landscape. The Monument was shut down for a period of five years and recently has been reopened to the public. The end result was successfully completing the NEPA and EIS process to allow the USBP to cut an enforcement corridor or patrol road through the monument to aid in apprehension and regular patrol effort. The net end result is reducing human and drug running through the monument to the point it was able to be cleaned up and opened back up to the public.

Desert LitterIn years past we’ve had groups like “Hunters Who Care” on litter patrol in the southern reach picking up general trash, clothing, plastic bottle and basic trash to the tune of hundreds of tons of garbage. Most have given up the efforts leaving it to self appointed volunteers like the ones on litter patrol in the Organ Pipe National Monument. A major issue creating trash in addition to the UDA’s and drug traffickers are the self appointed “Humanitarians” depositing food, water and aid to the illegal traffickers. The items distributed for the illegals most always end up on the landscape. Whether brought by the illegals or left for the illegals as a result of the self appointed “humanitarians” the trash remains on the landscape impacting the environment, wildlife and the habitat.

Inter-agency Cooperation Increases Success Of Border Security

INTERAGENCY COOPERATION

Our summary of southern AZ hunting is positive through the efforts of our AZ Game and Game Department Wildlife Managers patrolling and enforcing in the southern units. What has been noted is the increased interagency cooperative efforts and communications level to secure the region on all fronts. The USBP is not tasked with game violations, however, when they do observe game violations the AZGFD is called to handle the situation, conversely the AZGFD is not tasked with apprehension of illegal’s, when that does occur the WM’s take whatever steps are necessary to secure the area and contact the USBP to take control of the situation. This stands true with other federal agencies that are in the area or responsibility, the USFS, BLM and state and county LEO’s. The combined efforts are making a huge difference in response time and back up support of all involved agencies. This is making the southern units more safe and comfortable to hunt and recreate in. That said, as sportsmen and outdoor users, we too need to employ logic, safety measures and common sense, always, not just in southern AZ.

How To Avoid Encounters with Drug And Human Traffickers

Border WarningDetermining the threats to sportsmen that may encounter the illegals, some are armed some are not. Rip Crews have seen little media coverage in past years. These are people whether former cartel or just enterprising of sorts have set up shop in the region, north and south of and close to Interstate 8, to steal from the cartel and market the contraband themselves. You have to love free enterprise, right? As you can imagine this behavior has annoyed the cartel to the point of sending assassins into the desert to deal with the Rip Crews. On occasion, due to increase competition between Rip Crew factions, they’ve been known to engage in fire fights between themselves in a type of turf war. In any case we have little fear from the traffickers during our brief encounters. They know without question, that if seen by sportsmen or anyone else, the rath of the USBP and other agencies will be brought down around them. As a general rule, they will go to extremes not to have an encounter with us in the field.

As sportsmen, how do we behave when encountering the illegals, how do we behave when encountering the USBP? What is the preferred USBP protocol of reporting our encounters with the illegals or other local authorities? Be advised that jurisdictions may change depending where you are and response time may be of paramount concern depending on the type of encounter you having. If you have the opportunity to make contact the USBP or AZGFD agents, do so, let them know who you are, what you’re doing, shake their hand and thank them for the commitment, service and personal sacrifice doing what they’re doing for you.
 
Here’s the deal, we have guns, the USBP has guns and most of the time we know who they are, not always, and they don’t know who we are. We most always are camoed up, carrying pack backs and weapons, sound familiar?. At night especially encountering our camps with illegal activities in the known area, they general have no idea of who’s in that camp. We have to help them help us. Interviewing a local deer hunter this past October, a pair of hunters in southern AZ had established their camp, off the beaten path on a secondary road, on the second day of the hunt had seen the USBP engaged in patrol activity unknown at the time. At some point in the middle of the night, the hunters heard footsteps and noises in and around the camp. The flashlights came on the hammers came back and a tense, dicey, situation evolved very quickly until all the players had been determined and identified. It was USBP agents in foot pursuit of UDA’s. They came into the hunters camp in a stealth mode not saying “hey, it’ us, the border patrol” they were doing their job. All ended peacefully and without incident, all shake hands and waved bye bye.

How To Make Your Hunting Adventure More Successful And Safe

Emergency Call CardContact the USBP, Tucson Sector 1-800-872-7435, prior to your hunt and give them your hunting party information, your name, how many are in your party, your vehicle description and information, vehicle license plate number, the proximity or approximate location of your camp site, camp in or near populated areas or roads, the more desolate or isolated the location the more invitations to unwelcome visitors you offer.

Check and try to maintain your personal cell phone service or connection, when on or near the immediate area of the border you will lose cell service and may want to subscribe to international service to assure your ability to make a call if need be. As a precaution, install in your cell phone the USBP contact number (1-800-872-7435), the AZGFD Operation Game Thief number 800-352-0700 and that of the county Sherriff jurisdiction.

When encountering a personal safety or life threatening issue call 911 first. That will ensure an immediate response to the situation and deploy the proper and closest LEO agency to render assistance to you. If you see something, say something. The days of don’t ask don’t tell have long since expired. Report immediately what you see to the appropriate agency, report, illegals to the USBP, game violations to OGT . Do not engage yourself, report it. Most of us have GPS devices or on our phones, way points are always good, road numbers and approximate distance from known landmarks. Take note of how many persons involved, clothing descriptions, height, weight etc., vehicle information if involved and direction of travel. If there’s any doubt in your mind what you’re encountering or who to call, call 911. Don’t risk it!

Drug Traffickers Are Stealing Off Road Vehicles

Emergency Call StationOne more thing I’d point out that we’ve learned is to be aware of where you park and how you secure your vehicle in sporting goods store parking lots in the Phoenix Metro area and in or around regions contiguous to the border. Drug traffickers are targeting and stealing sportsmen’s vehicles to run drugs off-road and UDA’s through the desert regions. Think about it, your vehicle used for hunting most likely has enhanced suspension, all terrain or off-road tires, equipped with a wench, tools and miscellaneous equipment and probably has a weapon in the cab. After interviewing five sportsmen on the subject, two vehicles were recovered by the USBP on drug busts and one suburban was appended with 15 illegals in it. All found in the west sector, south of I8, near Ajo, AZ. The other two haven’t been recovered. AZ has a Vehicle Theft Task Force engaged on this issue.

Bottom line on the issues we’re facing on the AZ US-Mex Border, although not secure, is that apprehension efforts are more effective this year than in times past. Trafficking is down some 70% according to government releases. But that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved, it hasn’t. But with the increased and enhanced rules of engagement changing for the USBP and CBP, the employment of state of the arts electronic surveillance and monitoring equipment, aerial surveillance manned and unmanned, ground sensor and monitors, nearly 4,000 BP agents on the ground, approximately 200 hundred horses and the same number of K9’s with countless numbers of ATV’s Arizona is becoming a much safer place for sportsmen and a nightmare if you’re a human or drug trafficker.
 
With the efforts of our AZGFD, CBP and USBP, we can enjoy the hunting and fishing opportunities in southern AZ. It’s one the most unique landscapes on the planet. The Sonoran desert and places like the Organ Pipe National Monument are replicated nowhere else on earth.

“CATCH and RELEASE” will be left to bass tournaments.
“CATCH and PROSECUTE” will be left the USBP.