The border wall is an ecological disaster. Thousands of scientists have said as much. The federal government has said as much. And recent images of wall construction workers bulldozing cacti have shown it writ large.
So, of course, the Trump administration has decided to declare last week that the border wall is being built to “address the environmental crisis impacting our nation’s most vulnerable lands.” That’s straight from William Perry Pendley, the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management. He expanded on those thoughts in an interview with the Washington Examiner published on Thursday, telling the outlet the land is being “overrun by illegals, and people with firearms, people bringing in drugs.”
That Pendley is trying to make the wall a wholesome story of ecological protection is just patently absurd. But then it’s also hardly surprising. He’s a maniac who has called climate science “political science or junk science, not real science” and rants about “radical environmentalists” on Twitter. Speaking of, his Twitter handle is @sagebrush_rebel, an allusion to the Sagebrush Rebellion movement that started in the 1970s to transfer federal land control back to states and make it easier for oil, gas, mining, and other large industries to strip the landscape bare. Writing in the National Review in 2014, he said he hoped the then-ongoing armed standoff between the federal government and ranchers over unpaid grazing bills would lead to a new Sagebrush Rebellion.
In short, this is a guy who wants to turn federal land over to powerful corporate interests and who suddenly cares about those lands as an excuse to build the wall. Right. Got it.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the evidence of widespread destruction at the border as a result of wall construction is clear. The National Park Service, which manages lands where new wall is being built in Arizona, is concerned about ancient archeological sites that could be destroyed by wall construction. And thousands of scientists signed a letter noting that “[a]lready-built sections of the wall are reducing the area, quality, and connectivity of plant and animal habitats and are compromising more than a century of binational investment in conservation.”
To say the wall is anything other than a catastrophe for the fragile natural lands that run along the U.S.–Mexico border is a lie. And yet, because it’s the Trump administration, here we are. After all, this is the same administration that declared a contrived national emergency so it could shuffle funds from other national security projects to delivering on a racist campaign promise.
Most drugs and firearms aren’t shipped through wildlands, they’re brought through legal ports of entry. When drug running was more common in wilderness areas such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the federal government threw up vehicle barriers that dramatically cut down on the issue. As Kevin Dahl, the National Park Conservation Association’s southwest manager, told Earther in a recent story, the park is now “safer than a bathtub.” After a spike in arrests along the border earlier this year, the number of people apprehended has been declining, according to Border Patrol’s own data.
Now sure, immigrants crossing the border through wilderness will inevitably leave traces, but building a wall permanently breaks the permeability of the landscape that creatures rely on. It’s like having an itch and deciding to scratch it with a rusty pair of scissors. The wall is likely to screw up the flow of water, cut in half territory that animals like jaguars need, and, in Dahl’s words, create a “unique killing field” for raptors to perch on and pick off desert creatures who have lost habitat from construction.