Trump’s border wall could sep­a­rate some other res­i­dents — the an­i­mals

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAR­RYL FEARS dar­ryl.fears@wash­post.com

The “big, beau­ti­ful wall” that Pres­i­dent Trump vowed again last week to build along the Mex­i­can border won’t block just hu­mans. Dozens of an­i­mal species that mi­grate freely in search of wa­ter, food and mates would be walled off.

A list of an­i­mals that dwell near the 1,300-mile ex­panse that the pro­posed wall would cover seems end­less. In May, in a re­port called “Trump Wall,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pointed out more than 100 species be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Texas that are listed as threat­ened and en­dan­gered un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act, or are can­di­dates for a spot on the list.

At a time when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­stricted com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and other agen­cies, fed­eral agen­cies may be re­luc­tant to weigh in on any topic in a way that ap­pears crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent’s am­bi­tions.

But out­side the govern­ment, sci­en­tists who have stud­ied how 670 miles of walls and fences erected as part of the Se­cure Fence Act un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion tell sto­ries of an­i­mals stop­ping in their tracks, star­ing at bar­ri­ers they couldn’t cross.

“At the border wall, peo­ple have found large mam­mals con­founded and not know­ing what to do,” said Jesse Lasky, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Penn State Univer­sity. Deer, moun­tain lions, jaguar and ocelots are among the an­i­mals whose daily move­ment was dis­rupted, he said.

Trump’s pro­posed wall, es­ti­mated to cost be­tween $15 bil­lion and $25 bil­lion, would cover parts of the border that the Bush project, which was es­sen­tially aban­doned be­cause of its cost in 2009, does not.

Re­search on the im­pact of the cur­rent bar­rier fence is lim­ited be­cause that 2006 act gave the home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary sweep­ing power to build quickly, with­out the need for en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact stud­ies or other analy­ses that would show how the land would be dis­turbed and how flora and fauna could po­ten­tially be harmed.

While at the Univer­sity of Texas, Lasky led a study on the im­pact of bar­ri­ers that was pub­lished in the jour­nal Di­ver­sity and Distri­bu­tions in 2011. The study’s main con­clu­sion was that the “new bar­ri­ers would in­crease the num­ber of species at risk.”

A big con­cern, Lasky said Fri­day, was that the pop­u­la­tions of threat­ened and en­dan­gered species would de­cline over time. A wall cut­ting off iso­lated pop­u­la­tions from those on the other side of the wall would ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem be­cause they couldn’t mate, at least not in a sus­tain­able way.

“There are con­cerns about small pop­u­la­tions mat­ing with each other and in­breed­ing, and get­ting ge­netic dis­or­ders from in­breed­ing,” Lasky said. Their prob­lems wouldn’t end there. “We didn’t talk about it much in the pa­per, but with cli­mate change, if an an­i­mal or any or­gan­ism is go­ing to stay in the tem­per­a­tures it prefers, it has to move to track those con­di­tions. That’s go­ing to be im­por­tant for the per­sis­tence of a lot of species.”

A 2008 study men­tioned the de­cline of car­ni­vores, such as the griz­zly bear and gray wolf, at the U.S.-Mex­ico border and re­newed in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing Neotrop­i­cal cat species there.

“In the U.S.A., there are no known breed­ing pop­u­la­tions of jaguars and only two . . . pop­u­la­tions of ocelots,” ac­cord­ing to the study by sci­en­tists at Pace Univer­sity in New York and the Univer­si­dad Autónoma de Queré­taro in Mex­ico.

The cats “are threat­ened by land de­vel­op­ment and land con­ver­sion, preda­tor con­trol by cat­tle grow­ers, an in­crease in dis­ease ex­po­sure, con­struc­tion of high­ways, in­ter­na­tional bridges and im­mi­gra­tion-con­trol in­fra­struc­ture,” mean­ing border walls. More walls would greatly mag­nify the threat, the re­searchers said.

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN/GETTY IM­AGES

A view of the fence at Playas de Ti­juana in Baja Cal­i­for­nia. Pres­i­dent Trump’s vow to build a wall along the 1,300-mile ex­panse of the U.S.Mex­ico border would stop the free mi­gra­tion of many an­i­mal species, in­clud­ing more than 100 clas­si­fied as threat­ened and en­dan­gered.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

An ocelot at the Na­tional Zoo in Nicaragua. Ocelots are among the many en­dan­gered an­i­mals that live near the Mex­i­can border.

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SER­VICE VIA EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A Mex­i­can jaguar dubbed “the Boss” strolls in Tuc­son. Ac­tivists worry about pop­u­la­tion de­clines con­nected to the border wall.

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