Trump’s Wall: Bad Idea for Border Ecosystems?

Dear EarthTalk: Why do environmentalists think Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border would be such a bad idea?

—Peter Jackson, Baltimore, MD

Today, over 650 miles of border walls and barriers have been constructed in all four southern Border States: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Sierra Club Borderlands campaign has spoken up against the substantial border wall construction, arguing that it has had dire consequences for vast expanses of pristine wild lands, including wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and national forest lands, among other areas. Additionally, several species of wildlife have been observed and photographed stranded by the border wall, the group states, suggesting that many threatened and endangered species are suffering from border wall development as well.

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More than 600 miles of border walls and barriers have been constructed in all four southern border states, with dire consequences for vast expanses of pristine wild lands. The threat of a mandate to build hundreds of miles of additional wall continues to loom in Congress. Credit: Sierra Club.

In their short films, Wild Versus Wall and Too Many Tracks, the Sierra Club describes how the significance of the borderlands—a vast and ecologically distinct region with a multitude of mountain ranges, two of North America’s four deserts and major river ecosystems—has been ignored by current U.S. border policy. The borderlands provide important habitat for rare and threatened wildlife species, including many federally-listed threatened and endangered species. But in 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which included a provision that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all local, state and federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, deemed an impediment to building walls and roads along U.S. borders. Border patrol has now built stadium-like lights, roads and towers in sensitive, remote areas, the Sierra Club says, and the roads fragment and destroy habitat while high voltage lighting affects nocturnal animals’ ability to feed and migrate.

“Border Patrol’s off-road driving, tire dragging and ATV use in designated roadless wilderness has left an immense scar on the landscape,” said Dan Millis, borderlands program coordinator for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club continues to raise awareness on borderland habitat degradation with the hope that they can combat further border wall development that may pose harm to the environment and wildlife. In a November 2015 trip to a U.S-Mexico border wall in Bisbee, Arizona, Millis told Borderlands campaigners how the jaguar is an “emblematic species for why this wall is problematic…It’s important for wildlife, like the jaguar, to be able to have access to a range. The jaguar used to live in the United States, all the way up to the Grand Canyon … the jaguar’s critical habitat has been established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it includes areas that are bisected by these walls. And that’s really problematic if we want to see a very majestic species like the jaguar…we’re going to have to these problems like this border wall seriously.”

Millis also informed the campaigners of several other ecological issues associated with border development, including increased erosion, flooding and soil degradation. “We’re encouraging Border Patrol and Homeland Security to keep this stuff in mind as they move forward on projects,” Millis said. “They need to do things in a way that is more sustainable.”

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