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Biologists Warn of Border Wall's Ecological Impacts

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Biologists are concerned that a wall constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border could disrupt migration routes for wildlife, including bighorn sheep that populate Big Bend National Park. (National Park Service)
Biologists are concerned that a wall constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border could disrupt migration routes for wildlife, including bighorn sheep that populate Big Bend National Park. (National Park Service)
December 5, 2018

EL PASO, Texas - As Congress pushes back a funding deadline to avoid a government shutdown, conservation groups are urging representatives to reject any spending bill that includes funding for a border wall.

Sergio Avila, a wildlife biologist with The Sierra Club, said he believes the $22 billion project would do little to deter immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, but could have profound effects on ecological systems in south Texas and other border states. In nature, Avila said, there are no borders.

"Blocking corridors and blocking wildlife can affect their adaptation to climate change," he said, "and can also impact the long-term survival of some at-risk or endangered species in the United States."

Avila said a wall would prevent bison, jaguars, black bears and bighorn sheep from migrating to cooler regions as the planet warms, and connecting with other groups to maintain healthy gene pools. He added that plant species would be affected, too, notably the iconic saguaro cactus, which acts as home for many bird species.

President Donald Trump repeatedly has argued that a border wall is necessary for national security. Avila countered that a wall won't undo the political or economic disruptions caused by decades of U.S. interventions in Central America, which he sees as a big reason families risk the journey north for safety and a better future for their children. In his view, he said, investing the wall's projected $700,000 per mile in schools and jobs in border communities instead would be a better use of taxpayer funds.

"We don't oppose national security, but it's a rhetoric that keeps the public focus on fear," he said. "But what they don't know is that this infrastructure is damaging a lot of the natural and human communities. It's a waste of money; it's not addressing the root causes."

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an initial budget proposal allocating $1.6 billion for the beginning stages of a border wall. The budget debate is expected to move into the Senate as early as next week.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - TX