It’s crazy enough on many levels, the executive order Trump has signed ordering construction of that “great, great wall” – all 1,900 concrete miles of it and as high as 55 feet along our border with Mexico. The cost projected by MIT researchers is $40 billion, which Trump has suggested could be raised by putting a 20 percent tariff on imported goods from our neighboring country. Which would mean American consumers will really be the ultimate payees, in terms of increased prices for food, automobiles, and whatever else. Not only is the wall an insult to one of our biggest trading partners, there is almost no evidence that it would keep illegal immigrants out of the United States.
But there’s something else that isn’t mentioned much amid all the hoopla. That’s what will happen to 111 already-endangered animal species and 108 migratory bird species that live inside the wonderful ecosystems along the border region such as the Rio Grande Valley and the Sonoran Desert. Currently there are four reserves for wildlife on the American side and several more on the Mexican side. Of course, animals and birds don’t “respect” borders so they cross over regularly. And Trump’s concrete wall would cut off migration routes for jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots, bighorn sheep, wolves, bears, deer and more.
Here’s what Deborah Brosnan, a prominent independent consulting scientist, has to say about the impact: “…Splitting habitats and isolating populations promote a decrease in genetic diversity associated with higher risk of diseases and epidemics. Isolation raises extinction risks due to a small population size.”
Especially vulnerable are the magnificent jaguars, very few of whom still remain in northern Mexico. Blocking their path into our country will ensure that the U.S. population is never able to re-establish itself. The border region, as the Center for Biological Diversity’s Kieran Suckling explains, “is the only place in the world where jaguars and black bears live side by side. It’s this diversity that makes us strong – not some wasteful, immoral wall.”
But the groundwork has already been laid to get around the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Environmental Impact Assessments required by our landmark 1970 law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It happened under the second Bush administration, and a recent article by Deborah Brosnan on Huffington Post delves into how it came to pass.
“In 2005,” she writes, “the little-known REAL ID Act was signed into law. Designed to govern the kinds of official IDs accepted by the U.S. government to combat terrorism, it contains a provision allowing waivers of any and all laws that interfere with construction of physical barriers at the borders, and that are necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads. Waivers are at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security. ESA, NEPA, and at least 35 other environment-based statutes can be and have been waived for previous border infrastructure.”
Who knew? Next in the Bush years came the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which allowed the erecting of 670 miles of fences and barriers along the Mexican border with California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. More than thirty laws were waived to do that. Other waivers, Brosnan points out, sped up the building of a 35-mile wall next to a National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona where many agencies had worked together to recover the Sonoran Pronghorn.
It didn’t take long for the effects to be seen. “People have found large mammals confounded and not knowing what to do,” according to Jesse Lasky of Penn State University. The Rio Grande River in Texas, which the Defenders of Wildlife organization calls “an iconic and vital water source for communities and wildlife alike,” now blocks both people and animals from access to it.
Since Homeland Security made it official in 2008 that any environmental reviews for fences along the border in the future would be waived, you can sure-as-hell figure that Trump’s administration will use that justification, no matter that the REAL ID Act was never intended for a gargantuan project like his wall.
And let’s not forget that making cement already produces five percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions from factories and fossil fuels. Of course, the stocks of cement makers like Martin Marietta Materials and Eagle Materials Inc. have been rising steadily since Trump’s election. As Brosnan writes, “the border wall may trigger a new cascade of legal and other environmental actions. Scientists and environmental lawyers need to be strategic and ready.”
So had we all. As with Standing Rock, it may be another Native American tribe that wakes up the country to what’s going on. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s reservation straddles the border for 75 miles and the wall would carve their land in two. In their language, there is no word for “wall.” And tribal leaders say they won’t allow any such thing to cross the land of the “desert people.”