March 27 marked the one-year anniversary of Rob Krentz’s murder. The sadness of that date remains with us all, but perhaps we can say to Sue and her family, and even to Rob himself, that we haven’t just accepted his death. We have worked very hard, together, to try to prevent another one.
The anniversary of Rob’s death also reminds me, almost as sadly, of how the U.S.-Mexico border has changed in my lifetime, not for the better.
(Krentz was found shot to death on his property in Cochise County. A single set of footprints leading from the crime scene to the Mexican border sparked speculation that Krentz was killed by an illegal immigrant.)
When I was young, my father ran cattle on the Greene Cattle Company’s Palominas Ranch, 11.5 square miles (or sections) on the San Pedro River along the border south of Highway 92 between Bisbee and Sierra Vista. The ranch had big wood corrals adjoining both sides of the international boundary that were originally built to cross cattle from Greene’s Mexican ranches (“El Rancho Grande” in the famous Mexican song) to its U.S. operations.
Even in my time, I remember those corrals full, the hats of cowboys working cattle horseback barely visible above the low hanging dust, a convoy of trucks waiting in line to take them north. Just south of the corrals, in Mexico, was the old north headquarters of the Greene’s Cananea Division. There was a beautiful home on a rise above the river, outbuildings and a large barn. On the American side were hay fields and pasture, irrigated from shallow wells next to the San Pedro.
A few weeks ago, traveling along the international boundary west of Naco with our Border Working Group, I visited the Palominas Ranch again. The change during four-and-a-half decades is shocking.
The ranch is now part of the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area. It was established in 1988 as part of our country’s environmental ethos to “protect” the San Pedro River. The National Riparian Area meant, among other things, an end to cattle grazing along the river, a practice that had gone on in that place since 1540.
I wondered why, after 450 years of cattle grazing, the government and environmental movement thought so highly of the ranch to save it from grazing.
And save it they have. There is little left of the corrals, the fields have gone to weeds, the river and uplands are choked with decadent, unused, unproductive forage. But no cattle.
On the Mexican side, the old house is in ruins, pock-marked with bullet holes and looking like something befitting Mogadishu. So too the corrals. But standing out, ominously well maintained, are the old Cananea Division barns. They are patrolled by people who appear to be Mexican Army regulars. And the barns no longer store hay. Instead, they now warehouse drugs that transnational gangs keep safe there, waiting to be brought up the river through the “protected” National Riparian Area south of Highway 92, to sell to our children.
The Palominas Ranch is now so hazardous that Bureau of Land Management employees are forbidden to venture south of Highway 92 without armed guards, and signs warn visitors of danger.
So much for protection. So much for the border I knew as a child.
And what has happened in the year since Rob’s death?
Perhaps the outrage and shock it provoked in us and others will prove the turning point in the long descent of Arizona’s pricelessly beautiful border into a dangerous, foreboding place, “protected” and unproductive along the San Pedro River. The river and its banks, where Rob lived and where the members of our Border Working Group still make their homes and earn their livings, are truly threatened, but not in the way the environmental movement describes it.
Let us remember that the passage of time and impatience and frustration threaten our will to see our border again secure.
— Steve Brophy is president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association.