As many here know, the Bush administration is storming ahead with the building of a border fence that will run through valuable wildlife habitat on the border between Mexico and the US. The Bushies have decided to begin building on federal land first - meaning National Wildlife Refuge System land - because the government thinks those lands will present the least amount of public hassle; especially since Homeland Security has been given the authority to waive all environmental laws in the building of the wall. But just recently an opportunity has presented itself where the public can finally speak out against the wall's impact on the environment, and your comments are needed by October 15.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has announced that they are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed wall along the Texas/Mexico border. This is in contrast to what happened at the Barry M. Goldwater Range and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona where the REAL ID Act was invoked by Homeland Security and no EIS was prepared (just environmental assessments) and the public was limited in its ability to comment on the fencing alternatives.
The Texas EIS will study the impact of 70 miles of border fencing and the possible alternatives available to Homeland Security. Among the better options for the environment is virtual fencing, which is the least intrusive approach since it is comprised of cameras, motion detectors, and vehicle barriers, rather than a 16-foot-tall barricade that will cut wildlife off from water, food, and potential mates.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency recently released the first maps of the proposed fence project and included are 21 sites for the proposed 70 miles of fencing. Next spring, bulldozers will begin clearing over 500 acres with a goal of finishing construction of the wall by December 2008.
Beside the obvious impact on farmers, local merchants and communities, there is also a very real and dangerous impact on the local wildlife - specifically the wildlife at the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the Brownsville Herald:
Conservation groups are outraged the fence will block access to land purchased by the federal government during a decades-long effort to assemble the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with help from conservation groups, has spent $70 million to buy 88,800 acres of land that today forms a corridor along the river...
According to this map, several of the fence's fragments would crisscross or run adjacent to tracts belonging to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The longest stretch of fence - 17 miles on the southern border of Brownsville - would barricade Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary behind it, according to the map...
Environmental advocates said they were disheartened to see these latest plans. "The fence is going to be bad for the refuge and for wildlife," said Jim Chapman, president of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Group of the Sierra Club. "Our biggest concern is that it's a barrier to animals, keeping them from crossing to the river. It's likely to impact endangered and non-endangered species."...
Refuge officials have met with the Border Patrol and are hopeful they'll have a say in the fence's design, Brown said. "We've been discussing the different types of fencing and are trying to soften the impact to wildlife," she said. "We've encouraged the use of technology (rather than physical fencing), and they were receptive, although they said there were some areas ...that were non-negotiable."
Defenders of Wildlife just listed the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR as one of their "Ten Most Endangered Refuges" due to the proposed wall. In the Defenders Refuges at Risk report they state:
In the dense thorn-forest communities of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, a soft rustling of grasses and the harried, retreating footsteps of small mammals, reptiles and birds, accompanies the padded-foot prowl of two small, endangered cats-the ocelot and the jaguarundi.
These rare cats reach the northern edge of their range in south Texas, and here at this 90,000-acre refuge, already fragmented into nearly 115 parcels, they find some of the last habitat remaining to them in this country. The ocelot and jaguarundi are joined by a community of 513 bird species, including some colorful characters rarely seen elsewhere in the United States...
The Department of Homeland Security plan would destroy or fragment many miles of refuge habitat, restrict entrance and opportunity for the tens of thousands of eco-tourists-who significantly boost the local economies-and also block access to the Rio Grande River, the primary water source for wildlife and farmers in this semi-arid region. In short, the wall would destroy the very things safeguarded by the refuge improvement act, namely the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the refuge.
As for the endangered ocelot, whose recovery depends on access to sister populations in Mexico-and for the 20 threatened and endangered species found on this refuge-the wall would have dire consequences indeed.
According to the blog No Border Wall, these are some of the environmental issues that have yet to be addressed:
- Destruction of wildlife habitat: The lower Rio Grande Valley has already been cleared of 95% of the brush. In an area considered one of the most biologically diverse in North America, any additional destruction of brush, including clearing 508 acres for construction of the wall, will have severe consequences for wildlife. How will wildlife survive with their habitat limited by a wall? How will they get to and from the river, find food, shelter, and potential mates in habitat dissected by a wall? In some cases like Starr County, the Rio Grande is the only source of water for wildlife. Any animal that encounters miles of wall will have to travel long distances for a very basic necessity, water.
- Endangered & rare species: The ocelot, jaguarundi and red-billed pigeon currently face the real possibility of extinction or extirpation. These are just a few of the endangered and rare species whose U.S. populations would certainly collapse with construction of the wall. The ability of rare species like the ocelot and jaguarundi to cross into Mexico helps keep wildlife populations healthy by maintaining a level of genetic integrity. Reduction of gene flow among or within populations will reduce the likelihood of long-term survival of these species. A formal Section 7 Consultation under the Endangered Species Act needs to be done.
- Violation of International Migratory Bird Treaty: If construction of the wall takes place during the spring, as stated in the Federal Register, many migratory and nesting birds will be affected. The clearing of brush will destroy thousands of nests, many with young birds in them. This is in direct violation of the International Migratory Bird Treaty.
- Impact of construction: What will be the impacts of construction? Of roads for vehicles and heavy equipment? Of lighting and transmission lines?
- Economic impact: Access will be cut off for wildlife enthusiasts interested in wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking along the river. Eco-tourism brings more than $125 million to the RGV annually from 200,000 eco-tourists, creating 2,500 jobs in the local economy. What are the economic impacts of limiting access to refuges, state parks, and other public and private parks and natural areas?
Please take a few moments to send your comments for the EIS study. Express your concern about the environmental impact of the proposed wall. Emphasize that you support the least intrusive form of fencing (such as virtual fencing) rather than a large environmental barricade than will cause irreparable harm to communities and wildlife.
Listed below is the contact information:
Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS
2751 Prosperity Avenue, Ste. 200
Fairfax, Virginia 22031
Electronically: Border Fence NEPA
Be sure to include your name, address and identify your comments as for the "RGV Sector EIS."
After the comments are collected, a draft EIS will be prepared and released for comment before publication of the final EIS. I'll post another diary at that time.
You can read more about the environmental impact of the Texas fence on the No Border Wall website and also on the Refuge Watch blog (my blog).