Expanding The U.S.-Mexico border wall would be a dumb monument to racism and an affront to human dignity. Turns out it would be also terrible for wildlife, too.
A new study chronicles some of the impacts a border wall would have on the plants and animals that regularly move across the border, as well as some recommendations to remediate them (which sadly don’t include just not building the godforsaken monstrosity in the first place). The findings themselves aren’t unique, but the range of voices backing them are.
In an unusual move, the study authors asked other scientists to endorse the findings and recommendations, and endorse they did. At the time of publication, more than 2,500 scientists from around the world, including 616 from Mexico and 1,473 from the U.S., signed onto the research. The list of signatories includes luminaries like E.O. Wilson and Paul Ehrlich, members of the National Academy of Sciences, and rank-and-file researchers, offering a major rebuke the continued construction of the border wall.
“Given that scientists by nature and training are often hesitant about weighing in on public issues, that so many signed is strong validation of how disastrous the wall would be,” Rob Peters, a biologist at Defenders of Wildlife and lead author of the study, told Earther. He said the number of signatories has risen to 2,700 since the study was published in BioScience on Tuesday.
That so many researchers are invested in this issue speaks to what a disaster the wall would be for wildlife. Far from a desolate stretch of lonely desert, the U.S.-Mexico border is teeming with life and is home to some of the most ecologically sensitive areas in North America. Research published last year identified 100 endangered species on the border that would be put at risk by the wall. The new study identifies 1,506 animals and plants that call the borderlands home, 62 of which are are critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable based on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. It outlines five conservation hot spots, including areas where portions of the wall have already been built.
“One reason the borderlands are so biologically rich is that they are areas where tropical and temperate species overlap,” Peters said. “For example, the Northern Jaguar Reserve in Sonora, 120 miles south of the border, has the northern-most nesting group of military macaws, and the southernmost nesting bald eagles. They have tropical jaguars and ocelots, but also bobcats and mountain lions.”
It’s a similar story on the U.S. side of the border, where jaguars and ocelots are among the tropical creatures prowling the desert. By bisecting the region, it would wreak havoc on their lives and the lives of other wildlife. Mexican gray wolves and Sonoran pronghorn would lose access to huge swaths of their habitat, depending on which side of the wall they get caught on. Bighorn sheep used to crossing the border to find water and birthing sites would also feel the pinch.
Wolves, jaguars, and ocelots were all largely extirpated from their traditional range in the U.S., and a border wall would ensure that the populations still north of the border eventually go extinct. Species fleeing rising temperatures due to climate change would run smack into a barrier, increasing the chances of human-wildlife conflict.
Yet Congress has authorized the Department of Homeland Security to ignore that reality, giving the agency the ability to circumvent environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act that govern most federal projects in order to speed up construction of the wall.
In essence, that means DHS doesn’t have to consider the environmental impact of construction on any of the natural environment. The release of this study coincides with a House Appropriation Committee meeting happening this week to discuss the budget for the DHS, the agency that oversees the wall. That budget includes $5 billion to build 200 miles of wall that I’m sure Mexico will totally pay for someday.
With that backdrop, Peters and the 2,700 signatories on the study argue DHS should consider these laws and foster more scientific research on the impacts of the wall. DHS could, of course, also just not build the wall, which Peters said he supported while noting that it’s “unrealistic not to recognize that a great deal of the wall has already been built and that the budget for 2018 has been signed providing money for 33 miles of wall in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.”