Border Wall Bad News for Wildlife

Despite widespread opposition and controversy, President Trump’s border wall is moving forward: Just five days after the president took office, an executive order authorizing it was signed. The order attempts to waive federal regulations designed to protect wildlife and the environment. Construction began in late September in San Diego on various wall prototypes.

National wildlife refuges are among the federally protected lands the border wall would intersect. Experts have estimated that more than 100 endangered species—including jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundis, Mexican gray wolves, desert bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelopes—will be put at risk.

Among the affected areas is the Rio Grande Valley—the only remaining US ocelot habitat and a major migratory corridor for hundreds of birds. The valley is also home to the nonprofit National Butterfly Center (NBC). The organization plants native species that attract butterflies throughout the continent where butterflies migrate. In July—without notice to or permission from the property owner and without first complying with a myriad of federal laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Customs and Border Protection contractors started clearing significant portions of the NBC’s property and began surveying for the wall. NBC director Marianna Treviño Wright demanded that they leave.

In October, the NBC sent a notice of intent to sue the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that the department violated private property rights, as well as the ESA and NEPA, by failing to study the many consequences of the wall on threatened and endangered species and failing to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to determine these effects and evaluate possible mitigation strategies. Lawsuits have also been filed by the California Attorney General and various other nonprofit organizations. Whatever the outcome of these suits, one thing is obvious: The border wall stands to be a huge hurdle for imperiled wildlife to overcome.

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