Southern border wall is destroying natural habitats

Southern border wall is destroying natural habitats

Americans love cute critters, whether it’s our pets or the endless stream of cat and otter videos on Twitter. The recently signed Preventing Animal Cruelty Act (PACT) memorializes this shared value by making the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impalement, or other serious harm to "living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians” a federal crime.

However, we have created a moral hazard for ourselves because what we’ve just all agreed is a federal crime is precisely the behavior we committing at our U.S.-Mexico border.

PACT’s description of what constitutes criminal cruelty to animals is possibly the most accurate description of what exactly will happen to the fragile wildlife along the border should we build more of “the wall.”

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We know this because we’ve already caused significant wildlife mortality along the 649 miles of barriers we have already created. In its crudest moments, a bulldozer, driven by a human as it makes its way along a stretch of pristine nature that, once built upon, is meant to establish impermeable border security, may crush or impale countless non-human mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians.

If not killed immediately, this destruction of home, habitat, and water will lead to death. Who wouldn’t consider that animal cruelty and torture? How is blocking a jaguar’s journey to find a mate, or the decimation of a butterfly and bee sanctuary not causing serious harm? For some, the border wall’s necessity is paramount to all else such that they can justify the horrific extreme of separating families.

While this is the first thing we must address, our compassion must extend to holding space for all life and lands along the border. It is not a barren desert-like you see in the Looney Tunes cartoons.

It is one of the most unique, fragile, and beautiful places on the planet, and the most biodiverse place in the entire United States. Contrary to what The Roadrunner taught us when he would magically draw a mean saguaro cactus for The Coyote to run into face-first, life within disrupted areas does not just reappear on a whim.

Just because the Department of Homeland Security is exempted from complying with environmental laws does not exempt nature from the very complex biological processes necessary to recover from such a catastrophic event.

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Some may even believe that if you own the land, what you decide to use the land for is your choice, as a group who had recently fundraised $25 million to build a segment of the wall (on private land in Hidalgo county next to the Rio Grande) must have felt. Arguably, they are just exercising their property rights and would like to make some fancy renovations to their little neck of the woods.

And why wouldn’t they think that? We have been conditioned our entire lifetimes that what we do on our private property is our right as Americans, period. However, this group was just ordered to stop constructing their privately funded segment of the wall after sufficient evidence was presented to issue a restraining order because construction would cause “imminent and irreparable harm” to the neighboring National Butterfly Center sanctuary, and the fragile bees and ecosystems there. Even the tiniest lives around us had their rights protected in that ruling.

I hope this butterfly effect also reminds us of why we had the environmental laws, to begin with, and that it shines a light on what we allow DHS to ignore. While we can only hope that DHS could be held accountable to PACT and that we could return to heeding what environmental impact studies tell us, we are well on our way to decimating over a hundred species to extinction as we build a mile of the wall each day.

Vulnerable species from butterflies to jaguars and little owls are among the endangered species threatened by our cruelty, none of which had a say in the decision to annihilate themselves.

But why would we think to say anything for them when we are willing to potentially kill or maim our human habitat, our access to water, and our natural treasures? We also know that as quickly as we build the wall, the steel is breached or stolen. We will have spent $20 to 30 billion on wall rendered useless by a $100 saw purchased at Ace the place with the helpful border breaching man.

And with that simple cut, we also rendered the destruction in the name of security meaningless, except for the irreparable damage it has caused to wildlife, habitat, and those that live along the borderlands.

Even if you are willing to sacrifice our national treasures and kill animals in the name of security, it will be in vain. So imagine your dog or cat was not curled up on your feet right now, but on the banks of the San Pedro River, piled among other coyotes to keep warm. 

In their adorable slumber, a bulldozer comes through, driven by you. Ask yourself if you would crush, burn, drown, suffocate, impale, or cause other serious harm to your puppies, kitty, silly slow tortoise, hummingbird, or frog just so that you can raze an ineffective line in the delicate desert ecosystem.

No, you wouldn’t because it’s a crime.

Maggie Trinkle is CFO at Sky Island Alliance, a binational wildlife conservation organization, and has lived in the borderland region for more than 30 years. This is her personal opinion and not representative of her organization.