Western and Southwest sections weigh-in on border wall

The Western and Southwest Sections of The Wildlife Society collaborated on a letter to their regions’ congressional representatives about the potential effects of the proposed border wall on wildlife along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We recognize that the United States has the right and responsibility to secure its border against entry by terrorists, smugglers, and others engaged in illegal activities, but some border security measures have a deleterious impact on wildlife,” says the letter.

The letter points out that the proposed wall would bisect several fragile ecosystems, including protected areas such as Big Bend National Park, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and Coronado National Memorial. The region around the proposed border wall includes at least 11 American and three Mexican designated conservation areas.

These areas provide important habitat for many species, including desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), and endangered North American jaguars (Panthera onca). Artificial barriers can interfere with seasonal movements and genetic interchange between different segments of a population. The proposed wall could also prevent species from adjusting their ranges to adapt to local conditions or climate change.

The sections also raised concerns about Section 102(c) of the Real ID Act of 2005, which exempts construction of roads and barriers along U.S. borders from federal, state and local environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. This means there is no environmental analysis, and therefore no opportunity account for potential impacts to wildlife or ways to reduce those impacts while maintaining border security goals.

The letter highlights that the border wall could also disrupt the nature-based tourism which brings over $300 million per year to towns in the Rio Grande Valley.

In the 2018 appropriations omnibus, Congress authorized nearly $1.6 billion to fund border security and replace some existing barriers. The bill specified that the money could only go towards designs that were in place before May 2017, which excludes the border wall prototypes revealed in October 2017. Congress is currently discussing appropriations for fiscal year 2019.

“The hope for the letter was to provide that local and regional context to specific individuals who would be debating the FY2019 budget,” said Jim Ramakka, the Southwest Section Conservation Affairs Committee chair, about why they decided to write the letter. “While administrations propose budgets, Congress determines what the budget will actually be.”

The two sections have coordinated their work on the letter over the past few months, since TWS members in both regions were interested in discussing the impacts on wildlife of the proposed border wall.

“The Western Section board was not only very supportive of the comment letter, but enthusiastic and excited about the collaboration with the Southwest Section on this,” said Kelly Holland, the Western Section Conservation Affairs Committee chair.

Read the letter here.