EXCLUSIVE: Fish and Wildlife Service debunks “ludicrous” Fox report that Obama gave “Major Strip” of AZ to Mexico

As we pointed out, Fox Nation used the preposterous headline “Obama Gives Back Major Strip of AZ to Mexico” in trumpeting a Fox News report about a closure of land in a national wildlife refuge in Arizona:

In the June 15 report, America Live guest host Shannon Bream says, “A massive stretch of Arizona now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico.”

There are a few problems with this: A representative of the refuge told Media Matters that the “massive stretch” of land is about five miles square, it's been closed since 2006, and it obviously hasn't been given back to Mexico.

Bonnie Swarbrick, who is the public information officer for the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, said that the area in the refuge bordering Mexico was “closed in 2006 during the construction of a vehicle barrier.” (That would have been more than two years before Obama even took office). Work on the vehicle barrier progressed into the construction of a 12-foot fence along the part of the refuge that borders Mexico, which is about seven miles long. The area has been kept closed “to allow the Border Patrol to do their work,” she said.

Swarbrick added that the small strip of land that is closed makes up “less than 0.03 percent” of the refuge and said that the rest of the reserve is still open to the public. [UPDATE: A subsequent press release from the Fish and Wildlife Service made clear that the closed land makes up about 3 percent of the refuge.]

As for the Fox Nation headline, Swarbrick called it “totally false” and said the notion that America had given the land back to Mexico is “ludicrous.”

One of the most misleading aspects of the Fox News report is the on-screen map that accompanied it:

Glancing at the map, you'd probably think the red outline indicates the closed area.

Look again. At the bottom of the red outline, a small area along the U.S.-Mexico border is shaded yellow -- the same color used to indicate the border itself. That represents the area that is actually closed.

It's difficult to figure out where Fox comes up with this stuff, but it seems that this may have originated on a website called "U.S. Border Fire Report." A June 14 article there is headlined “The U.S. Gov: giving parts of Arizona back to Mexico.”

U.S. Border Fire Report is run by a writer named Michael Webster, who is also Examiner.com's "LA National Security Examiner." Webster posted the report on that site, too.

What does it take to become an “Examiner”? Well, there are “more than 24,000 Examiners across North America,” and the application to become one requires the submission of “a writing sample, short biography, a brief explanation of your expertise and basic contact information.” Examiner.com says that “spelling and grammar will also be evaluated as part of the selection process.”

Is it possible that when Bream reported that “critics” are saying the closure of this area is, in effect, returning it to Mexico, she was referring to sources like Webster?

UPDATE: Fox is still claiming “Obama Gives Back Major Strip of AZ to Mexico” despite the fact that (a) this is obviously not true, and (b) even a separate FoxNews.com article now acknowledges that the area has been closed since 2006.