Ranchers say wall could keep infested cattle out
Rio Grande Valley Bureau
Web Posted: 04/07/2008 10:47 PM CDT
ROMA Texas border cattlemen have a message for Homeland Security officials grappling with publicity nightmares over the Rio Grande Valley segment of the border fence: Bring it west, to their ranches.
That way, the fence can deter not only undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers but also the dreaded fever tick.
“For the whole cattle industry, it would be great,” fourth-generation rancher Hector Guerra said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 102-year-old fever-tick eradication program saves the country's livestock industry an estimated $1 billion annually in potential losses from the disease that the ticks spread.
Border ranchers are working feverishly to contain the tick after recent outbreaks forced the government to expand quarantine zones for the first time in almost 60 years.
But the ticks keep coming, catching rides on livestock wandering over from Mexico and multiplying on the exotic game that ranchers have stocked to supplement their income with hunting leases.
No longer can they simply treat cattle and clear them out of infested pastures until the ticks die. They can go after the ticks on game animals with treated feed, but not within 60 days of hunting season, which rules out the breeding season when efforts would be most effective.
A fence high enough and strong enough to keep out people also could keep out the cattle, allowing the “foreign” tick to stay that way, ranchers say.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security did not return calls seeking comment on the idea, but for the immediate future it's likely wishful thinking on the part of the ranchers.
While the initial Secure Fence Act called for a barrier stretching west of Laredo all the way to Brownsville, later plans aren't as comprehensive.
The 370 miles of piecemeal fence scheduled to go up this year include 70 miles in the Rio Grande Valley, then a break until Laredo, picking up again in populated areas like Eagle Pass and El Paso.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said the idea is to put the fence in places where illegal crossers can within minutes blend into populated areas.
That includes riverfront acreage in the Valley that is privately owned or environmentally delicate, leading to current legal battles and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's sweeping waivers of dozens of environmental and land management laws.
In remote areas, such as Guerra's 10,000-acre La Anacua Ranch, Border Patrol agents can spend hours or days tracking intruders with helicopters, GPS technology, dogs and old-fashioned “sign cutting” techniques of looking for footprints and crushed brush.