Outdoor recreation is a key draw to life in Southern Arizona.
Every weekend, residents and visitors alike camp, hike, hunt and bird-watch. It's part of our identity and part of our economy.
Pristine swaths of Arizona's borderlands used to draw outdoor enthusiasts without a thought toward their safety. While plenty of people still enjoy the beauty of Southern Arizona, the breezy spirit of adventure has eroded.
Stricter enforcement in both directions has made crossing the border, legally or illegally, tougher than ever. But smugglers still lead people and drugs across, generating piles of trash, scarring the land and creating a sense of unease - if not fear - over an unwelcome encounter with an armed bandit.
The Tucson Audubon Society now gets calls from birders around the nation asking whether it's safe to come bird-watching in Southeastern Arizona.
The organization's guidebook offers tips for safe and comfortable birding. One part addresses crime.
"Many of the best birding areas are both near the Mexican border and/or remote. Illegal trafficking both of people and drugs is common," the book says. "Travel with a companion. Always lock your vehicle and keep any possessions of value, especially guns, out of sight. Be very cautious about camping outside established campgrounds."
It's scary stuff, but it's meant to inform, said Matt Brooks, the group's nature shop manager. The idea, he said, is to "give fair warning without freaking people out."
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