The enormous and irreparable impact Trump’s wall will have on wildlife
Amid a government shutdown, it’s anyone’s guess when Congress and President Trump might finally approve a federal budget. The delay, of course, is well known: the president’s petulant insistence that legislators approve a massive increase in funding for border wall construction in southeastern Texas.
The costs of a wall would be borne not just by taxpayers, but by local communities, regional economies and families that live, work and recreate in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Construction would also have enormous and irreparable impacts on wildlife and public lands in the borderlands.
The Washington Post recently reported on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s concerns that proposed new wall segments would cut through miles of Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, blocking wildlife migration routes, trapping animals to drown during floods, and increasing mortality for highly endangered species. The same exposé also confirmed that the administration has suppressed the service from publicly disclosing impacts of wall construction on wildlife and habitat, with every intent of constructing the wall through the refuge.
The agency’s concerns are well founded. Earlier this year, more than 2,800 scientists from around the world declared consensus over the impending consequences of the border wall on North America’s biodiversity in a synthesis study published in BioScience.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a magical place. Surrounded by agriculture and development, it preserves remnant habitat for hundreds of species of birds and butterflies and serves as a vital wildlife corridor for migrating and dispersing plants and animals. The region is home to our country’s largest remaining population of ocelots and may be the only place that jaguarundi still exist in the United States.
These public lands along the border are also a powerful economic engine for local communities. Nature tourism in the Valley generates upwards of $463 million annually in sustainable economic activity for Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy and Cameron counties, supporting more than 6,600 jobs. The border wall could cut deeply into these revenues by eliminating public access to large areas of federal, state and private conservation lands and historic sites across three counties.
Some in Congress have staunchly opposed “wall” construction but are willing to support funding for border “fences.” The type of fences currently being constructed and planned are actually walls and are every bit as damaging and impenetrable for wildlife and harmful to communities. Depending on location, these “fences” could be “levee wall” — 18-foot high steel rods embedded into concrete atop earthen levees along the Rio Grande, or “bollard wall” — closely spaced concrete-filled steel bollards 20 to 30 feet high. These are the barrier types funded in the final fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill and construction is set to begin in parts of southeastern Texas early next year.
Even worse, these barriers will be built under authority passed in the REAL ID Act of 2005 that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive any federal, state or local protections for the environment and public health and safety to allow the expeditious wall construction. In other words, the Department of Homeland Security won’t be required to disclose and the public won’t have the opportunity to comment on the many and deleterious effects of the new border wall in even the most inappropriate places.
The entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico boundary is rich in biological diversity, threatened and endangered species and magnificent landscapes. Adding to the border wall jeopardizes a legacy of binational conservation work and investment by both countries, private organizations and citizens living across this enchanted region. The proposed wall would divide communities, erode our civil and private property rights, waste public resources and reverse decades of conservation success in the borderlands. Border security decisions made today will have a lasting impact for all Americans who call the region home.
We urge Congress not to provide Trump with more funding and to stand against the wall and all it represents. It’s now or never.
Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. She was previously the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997 to 2001.
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