Biden budget ignores borderlands restoration
For the first time in five years, there’s no new money for border wall construction in the executive budget proposal. That’s good, but it’s not nearly enough.
To be sure, President Biden’s freeze on border wall work has been an enormous relief to those of us in Arizona and New Mexico, where construction has been canceled outright. The senseless destruction of protected public lands here has ended, for now, and the beautiful borderlands are blessedly silent other than the calls of Gila woodpeckers and mourning doves.
But the president’s budget for fiscal year 2022 fails to include funding to begin restoring all that’s been lost.
This is deeply disappointing. It’s a missed opportunity that needs to be rectified to demonstrate the administration’s commitment to Native American tribes, environmental preservation and wildlife protection.
And it’s a prime example of how undoing former President Trump’s reckless policies is not nearly enough to stem the wildlife extinction crisis. Biden’s rollbacks may slow the bleeding, but this emergency calls for urgent, aggressive treatment.
It’s important to remember that Trump’s border wall tore a vicious scar through some of the most spectacular, biodiverse regions on the continent. At more than $16 billion, or roughly $20 million per mile, this boondoggle is also the most expensive wall in the world.
Construction crews blew up Indigenous sacred sites, ripped through protected lands like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and sealed off migration corridors for jaguars and Mexican wolves in New Mexico. They dammed rivers and streams, drained springs and wetlands, and bulldozed wide roads to nowhere through rugged mountain ranges and remote canyons.
The damage is devastating and much of it is irreversible. But with money and political will, Biden can begin the healing process.
Helpfully, conservation, environmental justice and Indigenous groups have provided a roadmap.
Earlier this year a broad coalition, including the Center for Biological Diversity where I work, sent Biden, the Department of Homeland Security and members of Congress a 14-page document listing priority areas for restoration and conservation along the borderlands.
The document details the criteria and specific areas in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas where the wall should come down and the land should be restored. These places include wildlife refuges, sacred sites, wilderness areas, wildlife corridors and rivers.
In April, Biden canceled all border wall construction projects paid for with military funds that Trump illegally siphoned from projects like schools and training facilities, returning several billion dollars to the Pentagon.
Biden hasn’t yet ended the remaining contracts. He should, and then divert that funding to borderlands restoration.
The administration should then collaborate with border communities, tribes and land managers to plan remediation approaches, including complete removal of sections of border wall, closing and revegetating newly built roads, as well as restoring wildlife habitat and other natural areas leveled by bulldozers.
This collaboration could serve as a powerful demonstration of Biden’s plan to preserve 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. The administration’s recent America the Beautiful report was long on rhetoric but short on details about how to accomplish this goal.
It also could show the president’s commitment to preserving life on Earth. Sadly, Biden’s budget provided little new funding to combat wildlife extinction, even as scientists warn that 1 million species are at risk of going extinct around the world without intervention.
The U.S.-Mexico borderlands provide an ideal opportunity for Biden to fix that oversight and put his “30 by 30” words into action by reversing damage to previously protected areas. Investments in border restoration could safeguard dozens of threatened and endangered species, Indigenous sites, precious water sources and public lands.
So, while we’re pleased there’s no border wall funding in Biden’s budget, construction pauses and policy rollbacks aren’t nearly enough to get us where we need to go.
Trump decimated the borderlands. Truly no amount of money could repay Native people for the destruction of their sacred sites or bring back untold numbers of animals who perished in the desert because their paths were blocked by a hulking mass of metal.
But the Biden administration should at least be making an offer.
Laiken Jordahl, a former National Park Service naturalist, works at the Tucson, Ariz.,-based Center for Biological Diversity to protect wildlife, ecosystems and communities throughout the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.
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