Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Wall: An Ecological Disaster

Hair Further's southern wall is so ludicrous an idea that only perverse pandering to white nationalism can keep it alive in Congress. One third of the border (about 700 miles) is already fenced off with little effect on undocumented immigration. [photo: border wall, Sonoran Desert] His plan to barricade the remainder of the nearly 2000 mile border will be an ecological disaster. The barrier would bisect ecosystems that both Mexico and the United States have worked diligently to protect as habitat for endangered species.

A case in point is the small herd of Mexican bison that occupies the Janos Valley of Chihuahua.  The protected grasslands on both sides of the border allow the bison to move north for grazing as conditions require. [photo credit: R. List] Currently there is a permeable barrier across half of the ten mile wide valley consisting of crisscrossed steel struts chest high, similar to the barriers encountered on the Normandy beachheads. Most smaller animals could pass the barrier easily; the Mexican bison simply walked around it. Trump's insane folly, if built, would completely close off access to the northern grassland for the bison and every other species. Trumpy is holding young undocumented immigrants, brought to the US by their parents or guardians hostage to the wall. He has agreed to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation in return for $25 million to build the wall for which Mexico was supposed to pay. If Trump's Folly is built it will rewrite the biological history of numerous species that must move freely or die.

The prototypes built near San Diego are thirty feet high, designed to stop the most determined humans, let alone wildlife.  Existing "pedestrian fencing" is 15 feet or more high along 405 miles of border. This fencing, sometimes two or three deep, is effectively a wall that destroys biological connectivity.  None of these well-founded ecological objections carries water with anti-nature conservatives obsessed with preventing more brown skinned people diluting the gene pool. Numerous environmental protections were waived beginning in the Bush Administration when most of the current structures were built. Der Leader has signaled his intention to circumvent even more laws including the Endangered Species Act protecting the highly endangered jaguar on the grounds of "national security". This announcement by Secretary Zinke comes on the heels of a new management plan developed by the US Fish & Wildlife which proposes a complex set of measures costing about $56 million over five years and $605 million over 50 years to help the jaguar recover from what many believe is its precarious state. Not only that, but if this misguided administration gets it way, the wall will be built smack through the middle of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

The animals most likely to be negatively impacted by an impermeable barrier are those whose tiny populations must remain in contact with larger ones across the border in order to remain genetically viable.  This is the case with the jaguar.  Historically, jaguars ranged throughout the American southwest, but human predation wiped them out at the turn of the last century. Today only about seven isolated individuals are thought to live north of the border in Arizona and New Mexico. {20.17.17} One conservationist observed that a wall would represent a huge waste of resources expended over decades by two friendly nations to restore threatened wildlife like the jaguar and Mexican wolf. Visually, the wall will be a jarring affront to the beautiful open landscapes of the southern desert.

The US Customs and Border Protection Service claims it will perform the required environmental assessments for building the wall.  But under the waivers already granted it, these assessments are simply rubber stamps prior to construction.  The Sierra Club has filed suit against Homeland Security for its granting of these waivers to build wall segments and prototypes. [photo credit: G. CarreĆ³n-Arroyo]

Rebecca Kessler at Mongabay writes: "No less than 841 vertebrate species, many of them birds, reptiles, and amphibians, and about 180 of them already in danger of extinction, would be negatively affected by a border wall spanning the entire frontier, according to unpublished research led by scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico — and that doesn’t include fish, invertebrates, or plants. A fact sheet produced by Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change cites similar figures: 800 species would be affected, 111 of them already in danger of extinction."  Mexican officials have been disappointingly silent on the negative biological effects a continuous border wall would have on species shared by both nations.  Border Protection says it has not received any official Mexican input on the new border infrastructure.  That is more than unfortunate, because only concerted international action can stop Trumpty from his folly, and save wildlife already struggling to survive man's onslaught.