- In late January, the Trump administration announced that it will be moving forward with plans to build ‘the wall’ along the southern border with Mexico.
- According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an impregnable wall running across the entire 2,000-mile border between the two countries would “potentially impact” more than 111 endangered species, 108 migratory bird species, four wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, and an unknown number of protected wetlands.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The new Trump administration in the U.S. brings with it a wave of policy and agenda shifts that are set to negatively impact the state of the environment on a national and global scale. Among them are a push for increased oil drilling, climate change denialism driving energy and environment priorities, and an anti-regulatory fervor that could lead to higher CO2 emissions and pollution from the manufacturing and coal industries.
In late January, the new administration also announced that it will be moving forward with plans to build ‘the wall’ along the southern border with Mexico. The wall not only presents human, fiscal, and international relations concerns, but would also have an adverse impact on wildlife and the environment.
Nature does not adhere to the human concept of borders: species are meant to cross landscapes and biomes to find food and mates. The US-Mexico region is a rich ecosystem, home to a diverse array of mammals, birds, and plants. The Rio Grande Valley, in fact, is one of the most biodiverse places in North America. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an impregnable wall running across the entire 2,000-mile border between the two countries would “potentially impact” more than 111 endangered species, 108 migratory bird species, four wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, and an unknown number of protected wetlands.
There are already a series of walls and fences extending from California to Texas on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and they are already having a detrimental impact on wildlife, including the iconic roadrunner of the southwest and big-horn sheep. Scientists have found that bobcats will walk great distances just to cross to the other side of their habitat. As US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist Hilary Swarts told Newsweek last year: “Working on the assumption that animals travel as much as they need to but not more, this suggests something is compelling them to use both sides, even if it means walking an extra kilometer to go around this barrier.” Closing whatever corridors are left will undoubtedly hinder species survival.
The ‘Trump Wall’ could mean the end of jaguars in the U.S., the decline of gray wolves and ocelots in southern regions, and have severe impacts on the bald eagle — America’s symbol of freedom. These predators are the cornerstone of a healthy environment. Creating man-made barriers such as the border wall leads to small, isolated populations — and with time, the impacted species become weak, inbred, and vulnerable to disease.
An example of a species that became inbred due to human-caused isolation is the Florida panther. The Florida panther’s range once extended throughout the southeastern U.S., from Louisiana to Florida, but the species is now limited to just the southern tip of Florida. Today they roam in a small fraction of their historic range and are cut off from accessing other panther populations — which ultimately lead to inbreeding and disease, as nature requires genetic diversity in order to ensure healthy populations.
In addition to laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, among others, moving forward on building an impenetrable border wall would normally appear to be a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service website states: “[T]he purpose of the ESA (Endangered Species Act) is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” Under the Bush Administration, however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waived more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to allow the building of border walls in the name of national security — despite the fact that the verifiable impact of enlarged border regulation on national security has been called into question by some groups.
The push for the wall is part of a systemic problem with the new administration, which has a deep disregard for science and does not seem to consider environmental impacts or respect human rights. Ecosystems gently flow into one another and do not stop at the sight of man-made lines and borders — landscapes on the US and Mexican sides of the border are one and the same, because neither nature nor animals distinguish between our countries’ borders. Perhaps humans should take a cue from nature. Rather than etch deep, artificial divides that weaken our resilience, we should embrace similarities and draw strength from diversity.
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