Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

The tracking way.(Final)

Byline: Story by Lee Allen For the Journal * Photographs courtesy of U.S. Customs Service

Native American Customs agents combine ancient skills and modern technology to battle desert drug smugglers

Deserts of the Southwest have much in common, whether they're in New Mexico, Arizona or elsewhere. They're hot, arid, often barren and offer miles and miles of things that naturalist Edward Abbey said could always be counted on to "stink, sting or stab."

Narrow the geographic focus down to 5,000 acres of scrub and sagebrush on Arizona's Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation and you will find something unique among the standard sand and rattlesnakes. It's an increasingly complex drug war initiated by bad guys using state-of-the-art technology and thwarted by the oldest of tracking skills ingenuously utilized by new-age Native Americans.

They are the Shadow Wolves - a one-of-a-kind unit of the U.S. Customs Service.

"We're wide open out here," says Rene Andreu, U.S. Customs Service resident agent-in-charge.

The "here" he refers to is tribal land west of Tucson where marijuana haulers dart furtively and Customs agents doggedly follow their footsteps.

"Most of our apprehensions come in a 10-mile-wide corridor from Tucson down to the U.S.-Mexico boundary," Andreu says. "But the border itself is spread out over 150 miles, half of that on the reservation, and that's a lot of miles to keep track of."

Mix of tribes

The Shadow Wolves unit is an amalgam of several tribal entities. Nineteen field officers and two supervisors account for more than 70 percent of the marijuana seizures reported in this region. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.