Prof talks on drug smuggling curtailing research

Scientists long have shared the border area with marijuana growers and immigrants trying to enter the USA illegally. But tension is rising because of a crackdown on smugglers by the Mexican military, new border fences, patrols by unmanned planes, a buildup of U.S. Border Patrol agents and a turf war between cartels. Michael Wilson, a botanist and director of research at the Drylands Institute in Tucson, said he avoids some parts of Mexico's Sonora state after seeing opium poppies, which are not native to Mexico, and mules carrying loads of marijuana down from the mountains. Opium resin is used to make heroin. The resulting paralysis is creating gaps in scientific knowledge, researchers complain. Huge swaths of northwestern Mexico are now off-limits to science, said Andres Burquez, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "The most serious problem is when you have to visit a specific place in the countryside, places of geological interest," he said. Residents "will say, 'You can go to A, B and C place, but not D.' And it turns out that's the place that interests you most." Dean Hendrickson, an ichthyologist at the University of Texas, says avoiding marijuana and poppy fields has set back his efforts to study mysterious species of Mexican trout in Chihuahua state. "This sort of stuff definitely puts holes in our sampling," Hendrickson said. "The drug stuff is definitely affecting research."

USA Today
Drug Smugglers Curtail Scientists' Work
(Dec. 26)