Wall en­dan­gers an­i­mals

President Trump’s bor­der wall with Mex­ico threat­ens cer­tain species

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By David A. Su­per David A. Su­per (das62@law,ge­orge­town.edu) is a law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity.

Some things sim­ply need to be to­gether. Hu­man civ­i­liza­tion re­ally took off when we dis­cov­ered that bronze could do much more than ei­ther cop­per or tin by them­selves. To­day, nei­ther com­put­ers nor soft­ware can do much apart from one an­other. And a wall sep­a­rat­ing cer­tain celebri­ties from the scan­dal sheets would bring the rapid demise of both.

The same is true of hu­man com­mu­ni­ties. The wall di­vid­ing Ger­many, and the con­tin­u­ing heartache it pro­duced, dom­i­nated the coun­try’s con­scious­ness for two gen­er­a­tions. The North Korean dic­ta­tor­ship has shame­lessly ma­nip­u­lated fam­i­lies’ an­guish at the di­vi­sion by im­pos­ing ex­tor­tion­ate con­di­tions on vis­its; those feelings are so strong that the South ac­qui­esces. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that we are con­tem­plat­ing a new wall to fur­ther sep­a­rate closely in­ter­de­pen­dent fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties and economies on the two sides of the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der.

But hu­man com­mu­ni­ties are not the only ones the bor­der wall would frac­ture. The bor­der wall that President Don­ald Trump has threat­ened to shut down the gov­ern­ment to build would be an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter that would split closely con­nected an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ties as it does hu­man ones.

Some 700 species now di­vide their time be­tween this coun­try and Mex­ico, per­haps find­ing food or wa­ter on one side but re­turn­ing to the other to mate and raise their young. The fences and walls we have across more than a third of that bor­der have al­ready caused ma­jor harm to these an­i­mals. Ex­tend­ing the wall, as Con­gress may this fall, would both de­stroy sen­si­tive habi­tat and pre­vent cross-bor­der travel on which many an­i­mals de­pend. It also would block wa­ter­ways and cause more flood­ing, which is the last thing Texas needs now.

One of the many in­ter­de­pen­den­cies we have with Mex­ico that never pen­e­trates the cur­rent de­bate in­volves wildlife refuges. For an an­i­mal pop­u­la­tion to be healthy and sta­ble, it must be large enough to avoid the ge­netic risks that in­breed­ing causes. And with each an­i­mal re­quir­ing a cer­tain amount of land to find food and ap­pro­pri­ate shel­ter, a refuge must be of a cer­tain size to main­tain vi­able pop­u­la­tions. Nei­ther we nor Mex­ico have suf­fi­cient gray wolves in the bor­der area to sur­vive, but com­bined there just might be enough.

The Santa Ana Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in ex­treme south Texas is quite small. Its con­nec­tion with sim­i­lar habi­tats in Mex­ico, how­ever, al­lows it to main­tain an in­cred­i­ble va­ri­ety of rare and beau­ti­ful wildlife. More than 400 species of birds shel­ter in the refuge as do half of all North Amer­i­can species of but­ter­flies. If the bor­der wall is built, it will bi­sect the Santa Ana Refuge, cut­ting part of it off from Mex­ico. It also would deny Amer­i­cans ac­cess to much of the refuge, in­clud­ing a lovely 19th-cen­tury church on the “wrong” side of the wall’s path. The wall would de­prive us of a na­tional trea­sure while do­ing lit­tle to slow il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Mex­ico also pro­vides us with pre­cious sec­ond chances to cor­rect our blun­ders in wildlife con­ser­va­tion. Noth­ing shows this more clearly than the story of the jaguar. This ma­jes­tic beast, the only close rel­a­tive of lions and tigers in the New World, once ranged through­out the south­west­ern U.S. The loss of habi­tat and ex­ag­ger­ated, now-dis­cred­ited fears of preda­tors caused them to be­come ex­tinct in this coun­try. A pop­u­la­tion still ex­ists in Sonora, how­ever, and oc­ca­sion­ally some of its mem­bers cross the bor­der to ex­plore their species’ old ter­ri­tory. Work­ing with the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice has pro­tected a cor­ri­dor for jaguars to travel north and suit­able habi­tat for them when they ar­rive. Abor­der wall would slice right through that area, de­stroy­ing any chance of get­ting wild jaguars back.

Busi­ness lob­bies have killed the “bor­der ad­just­ment tax” by point­ing out how many prod­ucts move back and forth across the bor­der sev­eral times dur­ing the process of pro­duc­tion. If only ocelots and pygmy cac­tus owls could hire sim­i­lar lob­by­ists. In­stead, ad­vo­cates for wall-build­ing en­acted leg­is­la­tion in 2006 that al­lows sweep­ing waivers of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions.

As cli­mate change in­ten­si­fies, many an­i­mals will seek to shift north as Mex­ico be­comes too hot for them. If a wall blocks their way, the re­sult will be dead wildlife in Mex­ico rather than healthy pop­u­la­tions here. Wel­com­ing this wildlife would add to our bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity and com­pen­sate, in a sense, for the loss of an­i­mals seek­ing cooler weather in Canada.

When President Ronald Rea­gan de­manded, “Mr. Gor­bachev, tear down this wall!” he cap­tured a tran­scen­dent truth about in­ter­fer­ing with nat­u­ral con­nec­tions. The Ber­lin Wall did not serve its pur­pose: The bru­tal, cor­rupt East Ger­man regime still fell. President Rea­gan’s po­lit­i­cal heirs should not sac­ri­fice our trea­sure, our eco­nomic health, our re­la­tion­ships with our neigh­bors, and the won­der­ful but en­dan­gered wildlife of the bor­der re­gion to build an­other fu­tile wall.


View of the metal fence along the bor­der in Sonoyta, Sonora state, north­ern Mex­ico, be­tween the Al­tar desert in Mex­ico and the Ari­zona desert in the U.S. Threat­ened species like the Sono­ran pronghorn or desert bighorn sheep freely cross the bor­der.

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