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With the new Trump administration taking hold in the United States, there are several policy shifts that are set in course to negatively impact the state of the environment on a national and global scale. Amongst them, increased oil drilling, climate change denialism, and increased CO2 emissions from manufacturing deregulation, coal industry expansion and a US-Mexico wall(1).
Nearly two weeks ago, the new administration announced that it will be moving forward with plans to build the US-Mexico Wall along the southern border with Mexico. This presents not only human, fiscal, and international relations concerns, but also an adverse impact on wildlife and on the environment. Nature does not adhere under the human concept of borders and boundaries, species are meant to cross landscapes and biomes to find food and mates. The US-Mexico region is a delicate ecosystem, home to diverse species of mammals, birds, and plants, and the Rio Grande Valley is one of the most biodiverse places in North America. According to United States 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.
Current borders are a series of walls and fences extending from California to Texas, and are already having detrimental impact on species such as 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, and as United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist Hilary Swarts asserts, we are “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 kilometre to go around this barrier.” Closing whatever corridors left will undoubtedly hinder species survival. The ‘Trump Wall’ will cement the end of the jaguars in the United States, spell the decline of grey wolves and ocelots in southern regions, and impact the bald eagle, America’s freedom symbol. In a not so distant past, jaguars roamed North America and in the mid-20th century were almost entirely eradicated. Today, jaguars still crossover between Mexico and the U.S., in Arizona and New Mexico, and are starting to make a slow comeback. These types of 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, 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. Nature requires a genetically diverse, and thereby healthy population, to manage numbers of rodents, rabbits, and sheep. By keeping herbivores in check, foliage is not overeaten and landscapes are not left barren, and in this way, an ecosystem balance is preserved. This balance is pivotal to prevent erosion, overgrowth, pests, disease outbreak spread by mosquitos, and to mitigate climate change.
The United States Fish & Wildlife Service website reads: “the purpose of the ESA (Endangered Species Act) is to protect and recover imperilled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” Moving forward on building the impenetrable, border wall would normally be a violation of not just the Endangered Species Act, but also the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, amongst many others. Under the Bush Administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) waived more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to build border walls in the name of national security measures. The sincere impact of enlarged border regulation on national security has been called into question by some groups. Nevertheless, in the face of building the US-Mexico wall, people and wildlife will be negatively impacted.
The push for the wall is part of a systemic problem with the new administration that vehemently seeks to disregard a deep understanding of science, consider environmental impact, 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 United States side and the Mexican side are one and the same, neither nature nor animals distinguish between country borders. Perhaps humans should take a cue from nature and not etch deep divides, but rather embrace similarities and draw strength from diversity.
Main Photo: Christopher Schwarz/Audubon Photography Awards