Anne Minard, Arizona Daily Star, August 7, 2005
Karen Krebbs had an armed escort while she was out nights last week at Organ
Pipe Cactus National Monument.
She's not a law-enforcement agent and she doesn't dabble in anything illegal.
She's a conservation biologist with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, studying
an endangered population of nectar-feeding bats.
Researchers along Arizona's border these days must balance their desire to study
wildlife in the Sonoran Desert - where the chance to observe long-protected desert-dwelling
populations proves an irresistible lure - with a growing fear of theft by desperate
border crossers or violence from drug and people smugglers.
The fears are fueled by a surge of assaults this year on Border Patrol agents
and by some close calls involving researchers: stolen cars, a work trailer hauled
into Mexico before it was recovered and a University of Arizona student robbed
Hikers, birders and other nature lovers generally are allowed to visit wildlife
preserves without restrictions because they're responsible for their own safety.
But scientists visit public preserves under special permits from the parks - so
managers feel the need to protect them as if they're staff members. Compounding
the threat is that researchers often work in isolated areas at night. Many wear
uniforms and drive marked cars, making them look like law-enforcement officers
who sometimes are targeted for violence.
As a result, researchers in most parks along the border must be accompanied by
park personnel or agree to a buddy system...
All that means a diminished focus on border wildlife populations such as pygmy
owls and pronghorn, often protected in the preserves, that need to disperse north
from Mexico to find new habitat...
The Tucson Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol - which stretches from the New Mexico
border almost to California - has documented 216 assaults against its officers
this fiscal year, which started in October. That's up from 118 for all of last
fiscal year, 115 in 2003 and 146 in 2002. The numbers are up partly because there
are more officers on staff, Border Patrol spokesman Jose Garza said. But they're
"The assaults are also going up in severity," he said. "In the
outskirts, they're using the vehicles to try to ram our agents, shooting our agents
in an attempt to avoid arrest."
Of 383,413 apprehensions so far this year, records checks on 28,900 of the people
involved revealed criminal backgrounds....
...a couple of hunters were assaulted last fall and "one Mexican national
was shot in the back a couple of months ago because he got too close to a drug
load," Ellis said....