A Closer Look: Border Wall Impact on Wildlife

Posted by: Bryan Bird | 23 comments
How splitting the land in two can have a significant impact on wildlife, landscapes, and the environment.

President Donald Trump made the border wall a central platform of his presidential campaign and within his first 7 days in office signed an executive order to build a wall along the remaining U.S.-Mexican border— all 1,254 miles of it. In addition to the effects on human communities, the wall will harm a diversity of wildlife and vast expanses of pristine wildlands and waterways, including critical wildlife movement corridors. Harm will be amplified by wall-related infrastructure and activities, including construction, improvement and maintenance of border patrol roads, camps and facilities, removal of vegetation, and traffic from patrols. Regrettably, all border wall construction can be accomplished under waivers allowed by the 2005 REAL ID Act. The act is sweeping, allowing the waiver of any federal, state, or local laws.

Border security infrastructure currently covers nearly 700 miles of the 1,954-mile United States (U.S.)-Mexico border and is lined with walls, fences and other barriers, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office. In areas closest to cities there are multiple, parallel fences and walls. In some places, there is no wall because the terrain already provides a natural barrier, such as the widest parts of the Rio Grande river or steep, rugged mountain ranges.

The impacts of this border wall on wildlife, landscapes, and the environment are substantial, including

Mortality caused by construction activity, enforcement vehicles, stress and loss of habitat and access to resources.
Blockage of the corridors that accommodate migrations and other movement—including northward shifts in range as species adapt to climate change.
Obstruction of access to seasonally important resources.
Displacement of species and disruption of wildlife ranges.
Destruction, deterioration and fragmentation of habitat, including movement corridors and areas recently replanted or otherwise restored.
Prevention of the gene flow necessary to keep populations healthy.
Alteration of water flows and related hydrologic processes in streambeds and floodplains.
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at least 89 endangered or threatened species, 108 species of migratory bird and four national wildlife refuges could potentially be affected by activities along the border region.

Impacted Species
The wall could end recovery of the jaguar species in the U.S. Southwest.

All jaguars identified in the U.S. during recent years are thought to have traveled north from Mexico. The wall would prevent the migration of jaguars within critical corridors between Mexico and the United States. Any wall along the border of Mexico would have to pass through jaguar critical habitat – 764,207 acres designated USFWS that contain features essential to the conservation of the jaguar and that may require special management and protection – in New Mexico and Arizona.

The endangered ocelot is another species that will be especially imperiled by border security infrastructure and an extraordinary effort to reconnect this cat’s historic habitats between the U.S. and México could be jeopardized.

Another iconic and endangered species, the Mexican gray wolf, would also suffer. The U.S. population count for 2016 is 113 and there are about three dozen south of the border. The wall would cut off these populations from each other, making recovery less likely because the isolated populations may suffer from inbreeding.

Other research has concluded that barriers disrupt movements and distribution of the low-flying, Cactus Ferruginous pygmy-owl and isolated populations of mammals such as bighorn sheep, black bears and pumas, in the Sky Islands of Arizona and New Mexico. Such isolation reduces exchange of genetic material and makes the animals more vulnerable to disease.

Impacted Landscapes
Wildlands that will be harmed include national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, wilderness areas, as well as state, private and Native American tribal lands. Wildlife corridors on these lands link habitat on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border essential for species moving to find resources needed for survival.

The Sky Islands region in Southeast Arizona and Southwest New Mexico is one of the landscapes of most concern that will be impacted.

Here, forested mountaintop “islands” are separated by, and appear to float among, vast areas of grassland and desert. This unique and intricate topography and blend of tropical and temperate climates gives the landscape an impressive level of biodiversity. The Sky Islands are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world, harboring more than half the bird species of North America, as well as black-footed ferrets, bison, desert tortoise, at least 29 species of bats and several species of parrots. There are at least 41 endangered species in the Sky Islands region, including the jaguar, ocelot, Mexican gray wolf, thick-billed parrot and New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake.

The lower Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville is another landscape that we are most concerned about as the impact to wildlife and wild lands would be substantial.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge complex is in this area and there are 11 unique biotic communities that have been identified. Habitat here supports 19 federally threatened and endangered species, and 57 state protected species. With over 776 plant species, 50 mammal species, 29 freshwater fish species, and 65 reptile and amphibian species this refuge complex is considered to be one of the most biologically diverse in the entire refuge system.

How will Defenders be involved?
Defenders of Wildlife’s long term strategy will employ science and reason to persuade those responsible for border security to avoid further wall or fence construction altogether or at very least avoid and mitigate any impacts on wildlife and the habitat we share with our international neighbors. This strategy will include gathering and synthesizing the most current scientific research on effects of border security infrastructure on wildlife. We will work with allies to convene an advisory committee of scientific experts to convince Homeland Security Department, Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol to seek solutions that won’t drive wildlife to extinction.

Defenders of Wildlife is committed to protecting wildlife and habitat that could be affected by a border wall. We will join our diverse, NGO allies in the conservation, human rights, civil rights, religious and fiscal watchdog communities to demonstrate substantial opposition. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the status of other developments important to wildlife conservation and our work.

Bryan Bird, Southwest Program Director
Bryan oversees Defenders work in the Southwest, where he has spent 23 years working on wildlife conservation. His efforts are focused on maintaining and enhancing vital wildlife habitat, and on protecting imperiled species, such as Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, desert tortoises and California condors, in the face of a changing climate, drought, and increasing development.
Categories: border wall, impact, jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, ocelot, Rio Grande Valley, Sky Islands, Wildlife, wildlife
Heather March 2nd, 2017
Please do not allow the border wall to be built.

Penny Keiter March 2nd, 2017
I wixh they weren’t but I think the walls are necessary for this geo-political era, but they certainly don’t have to be contiguous every inch of the way. However, I certainly hope that all these biological facts are taken into account before ANY design or construction insues.

Penny Keiter March 2nd, 2017
I wish they weren’t but I think the walls are necessary for this geo-political era, but they certainly don’t have to be contiguous every inch of the way. However, I certainly hope that all these biological facts are taken into account before ANY design or construction insues.

Chris LaDeaux March 3rd, 2017
I am a rare breed.
I’m a conservative-tree hugging-animal lover.
I voted for Trump to save our country from the influx of the illegal invasion force.
But I also want to save the Wolves and other endangered animals.
I don’t like the constant hate Trump slander.
Do you want me to adopt a Wolf?I definitely want to but don’t like the constant political crap.
It’s divisive and serves no purpose other than to divide.
However if it’s a fact that a politician on either side is harming animals I want to know their name and phone number.
Thanks:Chris LaDeaux

Arleen March 13th, 2017
I’m also a conservative, and voted for Trump for the same reasons you did. I’m also an avid animal lover. Its heartbreaking and I despise the cruel, unusual and unnecessary hunting and killing of our beautiful wildlife, or cruelty to any animals!
I feel the same about this destructive political agenda and bashing Trump. Their irrationality shows in the way they loved Obama, wanted Hillary! It has caused a very strong, irrational hatred towards Trump voters! It’s also made them rebellious, causing them to refuse to work with us to stop the atrocity of killing our wolves and other animals before they’re extinct!
People need to grow up, think for themselves and do what’s best for our country, all of us and our beautiful wildlife being slathered for no reason!

Tommy T March 15th, 2017
What kind of President did you think Trump would be? He defines divisiveness. If you really cared about animals, trees, nature, wildlife/habitat, the environment, ESA, or climate change (wish I hope you do)… then why in the hell did you vote for Trump? He clearly hates all of these since they interfere with profits. Didn’t you know that before you voted? Yes you did. Sorry pal, no buyers remorse allowed here. You folks voted for Trump, now the rest of us are stuck with this disgusting man. Just wait until the pipelines are built and our public lands get assaulted by mining and drilling, how many animals will be endangered then? Well, it’s going to happen because that’s next on Trump’s agenda. The Trump you voted for.

Julian Corley March 3rd, 2017
Trump needs to build a wall around the white house so we don’t have to look at his ugly face and mind if he has one. I think he is the must ugliest person I have ever seen.Julian

peaceseeker March 12th, 2017
Boarder protection should be easy with today’s technology and as humans evolve to a more gentile creatures im sure that with a little brainstorming, some constructive ideas could be combined into a great solution to protect that are of this planet for the U.S. citizens resources and rights and our way of life. Maybe we could then lead by example instead of strong arming everyone else.

Elizabeth Conlan March 12th, 2017
Good one

Robin Larrabee March 8th, 2017
Please leave open corridors for wildlife. Locate the areas where most wildlife move and leave these corridors open. These openings can be monitored with cameras, drones, etc. and the essential movement of wildlife can be unimpeded. Wildlife numbers are dropping world wide and wildlife needs all the help it can get. In the last thirty odd years, wildlife numbers are down over 52%. Please make decisions that help.wildlife.

Jean Maragos March 9th, 2017
Please do not let the wall to be built,All walls that have been built have been torn down huge waste of money.Our wild life need the borders open to cross.Borders=no animals=no eco systems=no us!!!

Joan March 9th, 2017
I think trying to wall off the entire border is a pipe dream, a trillion dollar pipe dream. No project like this one ever comes close to the original estimate – just check on The Big Dig or Bertha up in Seattle. And they will find a way over it, under it or across it, they are desperate and desperate people will try anything. So essentially, all this will do is harm wildlife. How about triple the border patrol – that’s a lot of jobs and will be more effective than a wall that will bankrupt us all and be ineffective.

Lynne Huntley March 11th, 2017
I knew this would be very bad for wildlife from the beginning, and I hope they decide not to go. through with building this very expensive obstruction to wildlife!

Karen March 12th, 2017
You mean to tell me he`s still our President ?

Lesley Lillywhite March 12th, 2017
I grew up 14 blocks from the Mexican Border, & do not understand the ‘fear’ towards our Neighbors. We do NOT need the silly & bankrupting-expensive border wall, which will be an Ecological disaster beyond harming our endangered species migration patterns, but also will interfere with monsoons-to-arroyo flow, (as happened in Organ National Monument), so many wrong & harmful consequences just becuz a crazy faux-president convinces people to be fearful of Mexico. ***Note to Everyone– The Tohono Chul & other NativeAmericans have land on the border & Let’s support their not wanting the wall, this could be a huge burr in the republican saddle to stop the wall.

Jean Rios March 12th, 2017
Wildlife first! Illegal activity goes over and under existing wall. Wildlife can’t. We don’t need to spend our money on something that is unwanted and doesn’t work.

Francesca March 12th, 2017
There are only 50 ocelots and three jaguars were recently spotted in Arizona. condamned to extinction? Yes all creatures shall be, not only because of this wall. The unbearable increasing human population and the damages all over the world will do that. I salute the three brave or just naive jaguars that dreamed of a new life in Arizona…. as long as they are alive.

Jacqueline March 12th, 2017
What will a wall really do? It’s not going to stop terrorists . What it will do is hurt moot only is but our wildlife too.

Deborah Thalls March 12th, 2017
I want the wall in a way but I don’t want the animals to suffer for it
The thing that worries me is that I am concerned that the animals going between the US and Mexico will end up being shot for trophies or being shot if they happen to get too close to cattle or some other stock.

Steven March 12th, 2017
I agree with Joan, despite the GeoPolitical environment, this will be a trillion dollat nightmare, that ultimately only the US Taxpayer will have to pay. You know they will spend even more money doing an an environmental impact study, and ultimately will somehow be ignored or worked around. It will only hurt the animals and the environment. there is no way a wall can be built across the RioGrande river, and if its not continuous, then people will cross, where it isnt. Did any one watch weeds out there? They’ll just tunnel under it. It’s crazy.

Cynthia March 13th, 2017
No wall. No compromise. This is the 21st century! We can do better than an idiotic wall at huge taxpayer expense. I’m ashamed the US government is even considering it. Drones, cameras, etc. and human border patrol agents (remember the creating jobs bit??) make much more sense. And economic policies that enable all people everywhere to be able to earn a decent living. These things are doable and workable; hundreds of miles of walls are neither.

Linda C Langlitz March 14th, 2017
Is there a credible estimate of the number of humans that cross the the border in uninhabited and rural areas? Does this number justify the expense of building a wall in those areas? 11 million is the estimated number of illegal immigrants in the US. Did all of these people wade across the river or walk through the desert? We need numbers! We need dollar amounts! We need statistical, common sense justification for building a wall! All I hear is emotional hearsay!

Phiyl March 14th, 2017
IF USA does NOT allow illegals entry/does NOT allow illegals to work here/does NOT allow illegals to be given any benefits…no money, no lodging, no health care..nothing…they will NOT come!

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