Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2018

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Border wall cuts scar through desert environment

Deep in this beautiful wilderness of sagebrush, wildflowers and soaptree yucca, a freshly minted 18-foot-high steel barrier towers over the landscape. Out here in the remote New Mexico desert, the new border wall is the only man-made structure in sight.

This is a serene and silent place. There’s no military. No Border Patrol. No signs of migrant crossings. And, until recently, there was no border wall. The mass of metal looks more like an abstract art installation than a border-security tactic. It seems absurdly out of place.

In April, bulldozers descended on this peaceful stretch of desert to rip open the earth and erect 20 miles of President Donald Trump’s border wall. To rush construction, the Trump administration waived dozens of environmental and public-health laws that protect endangered wildlife, Native American graves, clean air and clean water, among other things.

The wall here is already doing real damage. It’s an impassable barrier that stops animal migrations essential to the survival of many wildlife species.

That’s not speculation. Radio-collar data show an endangered Mexican wolf migrating across the border through this very stretch of desert in 2017. Wolves know no borders. They need vast expanses of wild habitat to survive. Had the wolf found a hulking steel barrier in his path, he’d have had no choice but to turn back, axing his chances of finding a mate and undercutting the odds of his species’ recovery.

The bollard-style walls will also obstruct the natural migration of species like kit foxes, bighorn sheep and ringtail cats. The border wall will stop these animals from finding food and water, fragment wildlife populations and increase the risk of disease. The Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, has sued to challenge border wall construction here. A hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington is scheduled for Dec. 18.

I first visited the area, just west of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, in January, soon after the Department of Homeland Security waived dozens of laws and signaled its intention to start construction. I came back in June to join more than 400 community members, scientists and activists to protest this senseless and destructive project. And I returned again recently to see the status of construction.

Although I knew what to expect, it was heartbreaking to see. This wall in the wild is a $73 million eyesore, an insane waste of taxpayer funds and an affront to immigrant and border communities. It’s an immovable metal mass, baking in the sun and waiting to rust.

Politicians from both parties voted to fund this section of wall by approving a provision bundled into the 2017 appropriations bill. It didn’t get much coverage, and media still claim that Trump hasn’t built any new border wall. But no one who’s seen this New Mexico desert before and after this year’s construction could say that.

Now, Congress is pushing for more border wall funding before Democrats take the House in January. Trump and Republicans want $5 billion, and Trump says he’s willing to shut down the government to get it. That’s enough to build hundreds of miles of new border walls.

As negotiations and rhetoric ramp up, we need to remind Congress and Trump what most of the U.S.-Mexico border really looks like.

Our sprawling borderlands are peaceful and among the most biodiverse regions in the country. You’re more likely to see mountain lions, bobcats and javelina than cross paths with immigrants or smugglers. These landscapes are a national treasure, home to endangered species and protected wilderness areas, national parks and wildlife refuges.

It’s not too late to stop more miles of wall from being funded, but members of Congress need to hear from people who oppose it.

We can’t afford to lose another inch of these spectacular wild places to Trump’s border wall.

Laiken Jordahl works at the Center for Biological Diversity, where he focuses on protecting wildlife, ecosystems and communities throughout the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.