by Fran Silverman
President Donald Trump didn’t get much of the money he wanted for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico aimed at stemming illegal immigration in the Congressional appropriations bill, and wildlife advocates won a victory with language that blocks construction of the wall in the Rio Grande Valley’s Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. The 2,088-acre refuge in South Texas that runs along the banks of the Rio Grande is a major stop for migratory birds and consists of four ecosystems – coastal, desert, temperate and tropical.
But he did get $1.6 billion, which he claims is enough to commence construction for about 33 miles of a barrier. A wall will be hugely disruptive to animals who live along the 1,954 miles that comprise the U.S.-Mexico border and who rely on wildlife corridors for natural resources, nesting and reproduction.
Animals whose environs have been reduced to a small range are at higher risk of extinction according to a 2011 study. More than 100 animals are at risk if Trump succeeds in building a wall he once requested be a 30-feet high concrete structure. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 reported that an impenetrable border wall could impact more than 111 endangered species, 108 migratory birds, four wildlife refuges, fisheries and acres of protected wetlands.
The species affected include bald eagles, West Indian manatee, sea turtles, Arroyo toads, California red-legged frogs, black-spotted newts, Pacific pond turtles and jaguarondi, a small wildcat listed as endangered in the U.S. A barrier wall will also disrupt the movements of ferruginous pygmy-owls, bighorn sheep, black bears and puma’s in Arizona’s Madrean Sky Island region.
University of Arizona researcher Aaron Flesch told the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting that connectivity is vital for animals in the region.
“Cutting off connectivity, in almost all cases, is going to be bad,’’ Flesh said in the Arizona CIR article. “We don’t know if it’s necessarily going to cause extinction of either sub-population on either side of the border, but it’s definitely going to (increase) the probability of it.”
A wall that is 30-feet high could endanger the likes of such insects as the Quino checkerspot butterfly in the San Diego-Tijuana boarder region. They can’t fly above 15 feet.
The Trump administration has already filed three waivers allowing for the border wall to be built despite environmental impacts along the Santa Teresa area of the South Central New Mexico, where desert bighorn sheep, the Aplomado falcon, jaguars and Mexican gray wolves live. The waivers are being challenged in court. The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, which would also be affected by the border wall, has also filed suit against the Trump Administration over the proposed construction of the barrier in its 100-acre center. The barrier will also cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, a string of green space along the river that includes a wildlife corridor used by ocelots.
The Department of Homeland Security had already previously built fencing made of barbed wire and steal along 654 miles of the border. About 130 mammals, 178 reptiles, and 57 amphibians live within 30 miles of the fencing.
Along with the legal challenges that will tie up the construction of the wall in court for years, the new 33 miles of wall will take time to build and may not happen at all if in the midterm elections in November, wildlife-friendly lawmakers from the Democratic Party take office.