Border Wall Creates Unintended Consequences for Wildlife

Madalena Larkins

The Charter Features

2/20/20

              Whether or not a wall should be built at our southern border is an intensely debated topic, however people often overlook the effects doing so would have on wildlife in the area.

               Around half of the official 1,954 mile long U.S.-Mexico border is made up of the Rio Grande, a river originating in Colorado that eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. If a wall were built, it would run alongside the river, depriving the wildlife on one side from accessing water, and putting animals on the other side at risk of drowning when the river floods every spring.  

                 According to a report by the Defenders of Wildlife, the wall could disrupt the migration of hundreds of species, including 89 that are currently listed as endangered, as well as potentially preventing animals from escaping wildfires. Endangered species that could be affected include the North American jaguar, and the Mexican gray wolf. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been buying plots of land for environmental preservation along the Texas-Mexico border since 1979, assembling what they call “a string of pearls.” They now own 135 individual properties totaling 105,000 acres, which are used as wildlife refuges.  

               Plans under consideration have the wall going through these federally owned wildlife conservations, (including Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Big Bend National Park) as it’s easier for the government to build on land it already owns, because they don’t have to go through the process of buying land from private citizens that were forced to move.  

            “It’s a tragic situation, Fish and Wildlife staff have worked on this issue for decades and decades. And it’s being torn down in front of our eyes,” said Caroline Brouwer, as quoted in the January 14th 2020 episode of All Things Considered from NPR News.   

            In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act in response to 9/11, which enables the government to disregard any environmental laws or regulations (such as Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act among others)  surrounding the construction of a border wall, for the sake of national security.      

           According to the report by Defenders of Wildlife, with these laws out of the way, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can proceed with wall projects “without the necessary depth of environmental impact analysis, identification of less-damaging alternative strategies, input from the public, pursuit of legal remedies and requirement for post-construction monitoring necessary to determine ecological effects.”    

           Another issue with building a wall through wildlife conservations is that much of the land would end up on the other side, making it harder for the US government to control the area. The wall would go right through the National Butterfly Center, in Misson, Texas, which is home to over 200 species of butterflies, leaving nearly 70 of the center’s 100 acres on the Mexican side. Of the nearly 2,000 miles of border, only 654 miles have barriers. According to an article by the Washington Post published on February 6th 2020, the Trump administration is planning to build at least 509 miles of new wall by August 2021, and already has 110 miles complete.

Sources:

Image: Catalina Island fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae), a near threatened species, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Blanco, Adrian and Miroff, Nick. “Trump ramps up border-wall construction ahead of 2020 vote.” Washington Post. Feb 6 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/immigration/border-wall-progress/

Burnett, John and Penãloza, Marisa. “Border Wall Threatens National Wildlife Refuge That’s Been 40 Years In The Making.” All things considered, NPR News, January 14, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/01/14/795215639/border-wall-threatens-national-wildlife-refuge-thats-been-40-years-in-the-making

Defenders of Wildlife. “In The Shadow of the Wall.” Two-part report, Part I: Wildlife, Habitat and Collaborative Conservation at Risk. https://defenders.org/sites/default/files/migration/docs/defenders-borderreport-parti.pdf. Part II: Conservation Hotspots on the Line. April 2 2018. https://defenders.org/sites/default/files/migration/docs/defenders-borderreport-partii.pdf 

Jordan, Rob. “How would a border wall affect wildlife?” Stanford Earth, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. July 24, 2018. https://earth.stanford.edu/news/how-would-border-wall-affect-wildlife#gs.x6zwzv

Loomis, Brandon. “Endangered Species and the Wall that could Silence Them” USA TODAYhttps://www.usatoday.com/border-wall/story/environmental-impact-endangered-species-jaguar/582602001/

Parker, Laura. “Six ways the border wall could disrupt the environment.” National Geographic Jan. 10 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/01/how-trump-us-mexico-border-wall-could-impact-environment-wildlife-water/

Schwartz, John. “Why a Border Wall Could Mean Trouble for Wildlife.” New York Times. Jan. 24 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/24/climate/border-wall-wildlife.html