As of July, more of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is now open to the public than is closed, an important milestone in the challenging borderlands environment of the past decade.
In January, park staff began a recurring evaluation process to determine the appropriateness of returning areas closed because of past illegal activity to visitor use again. At that time 68.33 percent of the monument’s 330,700 acres of land was closed to the public. Prompting the reevaluation were changes in law enforcement infrastructure (more Border Patrol towers, fences, and forward operating bases), increased staffing for both the Border Patrol and the park’s visitor and resource protection team, shifts in patterns of human and narcotics smuggling, and an analysis of data on park visitor injuries and crime victimization.
Using a risk assessment tool designed specifically for this review, park staff and representatives from the Border Patrol, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Office periodically compare the relative risk associated with daytime visitor use of open areas to those still closed. Wherever the relative risks were statistically similar, formerly closed areas were reopened.
Three of these quarterly reviews have now been held. The net result is the return of 62,375 acres to “open” status in the monument. This brings the portion of the park available to daytime public use to 50.52 percent. The monument staff continues to work toward providing additional hiking and bicycling opportunities for visitors in other areas that have been closed.