KGLP Station Manager Rachel Kaub and UNM-Gallup Middle College High School Student Adam Rutherford speak with Bryan Bird, Southwest Program Director with Defenders of Wildlife, about the proposed wall planned along the border between Mexico and the United States by the Trump administration, and likely detrimental effects on the ecosystem and wildlife of the borderlands, adding to the controversy around the proposal.
Mr. Bird, Southwest Program Director with Defenders of Wildlife, has spent 23 years working on wildlife conservation from protecting and restoring public lands to preserving wilderness and biodiversity across the Southwest. Bryan directs Defenders' efforts to protect imperiled wildlife, maintain and enhance vital wildlife habitat for imperiled species, such as Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, desert tortoises and California condors, in the face of a changing climate, drought, and increasing development. Bryan has expertise in conservation of forests, riparian ecosystems and rare species habitats. He has worked to restore Mexican gray wolves in the Sky Islands-Greater Gila Bioregion of New Mexico and Arizona for over a decade. Bryan holds a M.S. in Biology from New Mexico State University and a B.S. in Biology, from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The Mexico Border Wall—What Does it Mean for Wildlife & Natural Resources in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas?
WASHINGTON (April 3, 2017) – The proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall follows decades of binational collaboration and investment in conservation of our shared landscapes. While being built to stop people from illegally crossing the U.S. and Mexican border, the wall will do more to prevent wildlife and not humans from migrating. In addition to the effects on human communities, the wall will harm a diversity of wildlife and vast expanses of pristine wildlands and waterways, including critical wildlife movement corridors. Harm will be amplified by wall-related infrastructure and activities including alteration of water flows in streambeds and floodplains, construction, improvement and maintenance of border patrol roads, camps and facilities, removal of vegetation, and traffic from patrols.
The Southwest’s landscapes are as diverse as the wildlife that call the region home. The U.S. border contains desert, wetlands, grasslands, rivers, mountains and forests. It’s important to protect these landscapes and waters so that they can continue to support abundant, diverse wildlife. All species play an important role in the ecosystem, and without one present, the health of the ecosystem deteriorates. This has major implications for public health – from recreational opportunities to drinking water quality.
Maintaining connected habitats is especially important for imperiled species struggling to survive in the face of multiple and cumulative threats such as the ocelot, Mexican gray wolf, jaguar and Sonoran pronghorn. For some species, the wall will completely block the regularly traveled paths through the landscape that wildlife has depended on for centuries. If the wall fragments populations and prevents animals from reaching necessary habitat, exchange genes between populations, and/or reach vital food sources, these species are unlikely to remain healthy and contribute to their ecological landscapes.
There are several scientific and conservation-minded solutions to extending the wall, including virtual fencing and wildlife-friendly vehicle barriers that are passable only to wildlife. There are also short-term measures that can be taken to support wildlife on America’s borders such as increased funding for environmental protection, improved environmental training for Border Patrol agents, and greater commitment to existing environmental laws. Protection of the irreplaceable parks, refuges, forests and wilderness areas and the intricate web of life that depends on them should be a central and fundamental consideration of border security.
What is the connection between protecting public lands and endangered species recovery? And how would the border wall affect this important relationship?
With scientists declaring a sixth mass extinction, how will the border wall affect endangered species on the brink of vanishing?
What three places along the border are most critical for endangered species?
The following are State-specific concerns and affected endangered animal species from Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas:
· In Arizona, the border wall significantly affects the Sonoran Desert, home to endangered Sonoran pronghorn, cactus ferruginous pygmy owls and desert tortoises, and the world-renowned Sky Islands, so named for the “islands” of forested habitat rising out of a “sea” of surrounding desert and grasslands. The Sky Islands are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world, supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, 104 species of mammals and over 3,000 species of plants. Jaguar, ocelot, Mexican gray wolf, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, Sonoran pronghorn antelope, Mojave desert tortoise, black bear, cougar, desert mule deer, southwest willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, desert fishes.
· In California, any extension of the border wall would bisect the Tijuana River that meanders through the locally protected Marron Valley in San Diego County and the federally protected Jacumba Wilderness Area. This would cut off important migration routes for the highly endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, devastating Peninsular bighorn sheep recovery efforts. Peninsular bighorn sheep, Mojave desert tortoise, black bear, cougar, desert mule deer, southwest willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, desert fishes.
· In New Mexico, important wildlife habitats are found in the state’s ‘boot heel,’ a mosaic of public and private lands largely managed for conservation. There are also expansive U.S. Forest Service lands in the state that are critical for jaguar movement between the U.S. and Mexico. Jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, black bear, cougar, desert mule deer, American bison, southwest willow flycatcher, and black-tailed prairie dog, yellow-billed cuckoo, desert fishes.
· In Texas, walls and barriers block people and animals from access to the Rio Grande River, an iconic and vital water source for communities and wildlife alike. Rising as a clear, snow-fed mountain stream more than 12,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains, the Rio Grande descends across steppes and deserts, watering rich agricultural regions as it flows on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Ocelot, jaguarundi, sea turtles, manatee, yellow-billed cuckoo, desert fishes.
· AP reported that the Government Accountability Office estimates it would cost on average $6.5 million a mile for a fence to keep out people who try to enter on foot and $1.8 million a mile for vehicle barriers. There are currently 354 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers.
· Reuters reported that an internal report from the Department of Homeland Security estimated the cost of the wall to be $21.6 billion and that it would take three and a half years to build.
How will Defenders be involved? Defenders of Wildlife’s long term strategy will employ science and reason to persuade those responsible for border security to avoid further wall or fence construction altogether or at very least avoid and mitigate any impacts on wildlife and the habitat we share with our international neighbors. This strategy will include gathering and synthesizing the most current scientific research on effects of border security infrastructure on wildlife and updating Defenders’ 2006 report, On The Line. We will work with allies to convene an advisory committee of scientific experts to convince Homeland Security Department, Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol to seek solutions that won’t drive wildlife to extinction.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.
Indigenous people whose land includes parts of Mexico and Arizona are unable to access resources due to border restrictions: