The desert quail of the American southwest are one of those special “bucket list” destinations that virtually all upland bird hunters hope to make at least once in their lifetime. The rugged and breathtaking scenery in the vast tracts of public land along the southern border and the quail that inhabit them draw hunters from all over the country. If you’ve never been (and I, unfortunately, haven’t. Yet) here’s a nice introduction (from the excellent Eight More Miles blog). But there’s big trouble on the border these days, highlighted by recent reports about the alleged closure of a national wildlife refuge in southern Arizona due to Mexican drug and immigrant smugglers. First, Fox News reported that a large area the Buenos Ares National Wildlife Refuge had been closed to the public because it was too dangerous.

From this story on Fox News:
_About 3,500 acres of southern Arizona along the Mexican border is closed to U.S. citizens due to increased violence in the region. The closed off area stretches 80 miles along the border and includes part of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It was closed in October 2006 “due to human safety concerns,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday in response to news reports on the closure. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told Fox News that violence against law enforcement officers and U.S. citizens has increased in the past four months, further underscoring the need to keep the 80 miles of border land off-limits to Americans. The refuge had been adversely affected by the increase in drug smugglers, illegal activity and surveillance, which made it dangerous for Americans to visit. “The situation in this zone has reached a point where continued public use of the area is not prudent,” said refuge manager Mitch Ellis.

“It’s literally out of control,” said Babeu. “We stood with Senator McCain and literally demanded support for 3,000 soldiers to be deployed to Arizona to get this under control and finally secure our border with Mexico.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have warned visitors in Arizona to beware of heavily armed drug smugglers and human traffickers._

Then, the US Fish & Wildlife Service responded:
_Several media outlets have been inaccurately reporting that a massive stretch of the U.S. border at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was recently closed. Buenos Aires NWR in southern Arizona has not been closed to the public. Nearly 5 years ago, a very small portion of the refuge closed to public access due to public safety concerns. However, the remainder (97%) of the refuge’s 118,000 acres is open to the public for recreational activities such as hiking, camping, birdwatching and seasonal hunting.

Recent news items further falsely stated that the closure extends from the border 80 miles to the north. This distance is far from accurate. On October 6, 2006, roughly 3,500 acres, or 3%, of the refuge, was closed to public access due to human safety concerns. At that time there was a marked increase in violence along the border due to human and drug trafficking. The closed area extends north from the international border roughly ¾ of a mile. A notice of the closure, including a map has been on the refuge website since 2006.

At this time there are no plans to reopen this southernmost 3/4-mile-wide portion of the refuge. However, since 2006 the refuge has experienced a significant decline in violent activity in the area thanks to ongoing cooperation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The refuge will reopen the area at such time that it is determined to be safe for visitors._

So what’s a quail hunter to do? Do you take the risk (and it’s obvious there is a risk. The only real debate concerns the level of that risk) of being shot or kidnapped to pursue your dream, or do you just stay away? Has it really come to that? Are blogs like Eight More Miles destined to become yet another chronicle of how things used to be?