VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 18   |   MAY 4 – 10, 2011

MAY 9, 2011

Cooperative effort results in ton of success

ELOY – It is easy to have mixed feelings about volunteers removing a ton of trash from a magnificently scenic area in the Ironwood Forest National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Arizona.

On one hand, it is discouraging that there could be a ton of trash left behind in this area of national treasure.

On the other hand, the multiagency cooperation that got the cleanup and restoration effort pulled together is something to be recognized and celebrated.

The trash was left behind by people involved in illegal activities, primarily smuggling of drugs and humans. The area – northwest of Tucson, about 65 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border – is part of a corridor used by criminal factions that runs through public land.
The cleanup was a joint effort organized by the BLM that brought together volunteers and law enforcement officers.

The volunteers were from the Dove Mountain Hiking Club, the Clean Forest Project, the Silverbell Estates neighborhood, and the Friends of the Ironwood, among others. In addition, inmates from the Pinal County Jail, though not exactly volunteers, provided valuable work in blocking an illegal road.

The BLM was the organizing agency, but the list of support – primarily law enforcement – was extensive.

Pinal County Sheriff’s Office provided the inmates and law enforcement sweeps of the area in the days before the cleanup.

Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) used its helicopter to do an aerial check of the area for potential problems and then stayed around in case of a medical issue.

Border Patrol agents joined in the pre-operation sweeps.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers also were involved in the pre-operation sweeps.

Town of Eloy police officers were involved in the pre-operation sweeps and patrolled the roads leading to the Monument to deal with people who may have fled to avoid all the attention.

Officers from the multi-agency Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM) provided on-scene security and gained insight into the issues facing officers from land management officers charged with protecting natural resources. The GIITEM force comprised officers from the Department of Public Safety and the cities of Casa Grande, Coolidge, and Florence.

“This is another example of cooperative efforts that we are committed to law enforcement-wise and with the community,” said Tom Lister, chief law enforcement ranger for BLM Arizona.

The effort was part of BLM Arizona’s Operation ROAM (Restore Our Arizona Monuments) that focuses on fighting back against smugglers and others using public land for transporting contraband.

As part of ROAM:
• BLM Arizona in fall 2010 built a vehicle barrier along 1.3 miles of land in the Sonoran Desert National Monument that now blocks an illegal road.
• BLM law enforcement rangers continue to join Border Patrol and other land management officers in joint operations on public lands. The result: criminals are arrested and deterred and officers get cross-training that only makes them better able to serve.
• In an ongoing effort by the BLM and the Arizona Department of Transportation, brush is being cleared in the right-of-way along Interstate 8 so that smugglers don’t have cover when transporting loads to highway vehicles.

In the recent operation in the Ironwood Forest National Monument, Lister had praise for the volunteers who uncovered and picked up sometimes unpleasant materials. He also praised the efforts of the jail crew, who used only muscle power to haul rocks to build a barrier.
“Providing the jail crew is another example of (Pinal County) Sheriff (Paul) Babeu trying to address the smuggling problem that goes on down here. He is working to protect the resources for the citizens of Pinal County and Arizona,” Lister said.

Having the helicopter in the air was another big plus. “It was a real asset for us in protecting the safety of the volunteers. In these tough economic times it’s hard to get a commitment for such an asset,” Lister said. “DPS really stepped up for us.”

Laura Olais as the BLM manager of the Ironwood Forest National Monument, organized the volunteers and the cleanup. She noted the hard work put in by the volunteers. “It is difficult terrain and it’s hard to find the trash. We probably got 80 percent of it (in the area of focus).”

The trash was hard to find because criminals using the site for lookout and lay-up sites have learned that visible trash makes it easier to locate their hideouts, Lister said. So they stuff empty cans, empty water bottles, backpacks, pizza boxes and dryer sheets (thought to make the smell of marijuana undetectable, Lister said) in crevices and under rocks.

The volunteers pulled out 69 bags of trash, which weighed an estimated 2,000 pounds.
No one estimated the weight of the rocks moved by the jail inmates – but it was probably well over a ton. The rocks were used to build a low wall across an entrance to the illegal road.

Nobody could calculate the value of having law enforcement officers from different agencies working together on a project like this. But everybody agreed that it was another step forward in the fight against illegal border-related activity.

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