Trump’s border wall poses ecological threats

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico threatens many kinds of life, from humans to endangered species.

Trump announced his administration’s plan to build a barrier on the southern U.S. border on Jan. 25, pursuing an oft-repeated campaign promise. He proposes to build a “contiguous, physical wall” — considered the most expensive way to secure a border — and he repeatedly has said Mexico will pay for the wall, which Mexico vehemently denies.

Construction would involve building over tribal land, in national parks and forests and on private property, as well as on rough, rugged terrain.

“We have built a fence along the border almost as much as we possibly can without violating tribal laws, environmental requirements and taking over peoples’ personal, private property,” Michelle Mrdeza — who worked for the House Appropriations panel during the fence debate of the mid-2000s — told the AP in January.

Opposition to a wall is solid among progressive groups, with organizations advocating immigrant rights and social justice, as well as urging the protection of wildlife and wild places.

“The Sierra Club is in total solidarity with immigrants, communities of color, Muslims, women and all those who may be threatened under a Trump administration,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization. “The struggles to protect our communities and our environment cannot be separated and everyone who values the principles of liberty, freedom and justice should continue to resist these attacks.”

Environmentalists say existing barriers — about 650 miles along the southern border — were constructed with little to no environmental review or oversight. The result? Erosion and deadly flooding in communities in Mexico and the United States and disruption to wildlife corridors crucial to the existence of some species.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said environmentalists will stand before bulldozers if necessary to block Trump’s wall.

Big cats at risk

The wall — in addition to perpetuating human suffering and threatening ways of life in border communities — would halt the migration of jaguars, ocelots, cougars, wolves and other animals.

“The border region is home to a rich diversity of living things,” Suckling said. “It’s a place where the north and south meet and overlap — the only place in the world where jaguars and black bears live side by side. It’s this diversity that makes us strong, not some wasteful … wall.”

Of particular concern to CBD and other environmental groups is the impact of a massive, solid wall on jaguars, because the U.S. population will never re-establish if migration of the small community of big cats in northern Mexico is blocked.

“Trump’s plan would end any chance of recovery,” said Suckling.

The largest of American cats, the jaguar once roamed a connected landscape from the southern United States to Argentina, according to Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, a global big cat conservation group.

Large-scale development and agriculture diminished the jaguar’s range by more than 40 percent and, Rabinowitz said, the species no longer has resident breeding populations in the United States.

In contrast, Mexico maintains a safe haven of critical jaguar habitat about 100 miles from the border — a few days walk for a wandering cat.

“The protection of this source population has resulted in some dispersing male jaguars moving into the U.S.,” Rabinowitz said. “The only hope for natural re-colonization in the U.S., however remote, hinges on maintaining this core population to the south and its connectivity.”

“Populations of wild cats need freedom to roam,” he added.

“Apex predators like wild cats are among the first species to disappear when humans disrupt and fragment natural landscapes, leading to impoverished ecosystems with impacts on both wildlife and people,” said Dr. Luke Hunter, president of Panthera. “The the borderlands were once inhabited by five species of wild cats. Only two, the cougar and bobcat, are still relatively secure on both sides of the border.”

People might find a way over a fence or a wall, but not wildlife, wildflowers or naturally flowing water.

For the record

“Like a hotel with his name in gold above the door, Trump’s Mexican border wall would be an ugly monument to his ego. It will cost billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, while causing flooding and harm to border communities and wildlife. The plot to target immigrant families would shatter lives and shred the fabric of this country.” — Michael Brune, Sierra Club

On the web

Sierra Club’s Borderlands campaign at sierraclub.org/borderlands.

Center for Biological Diversity at biologicaldiversity.org.