Environmental groups say border wall could be devastating to borderlands area

Posted at 4:58 PM, Mar 21, 2017

The US-Mexico border wall stands as a symbol of national security for some, and of cultural divide for others.  As the new administration steams ahead to get bids to expand and build the nation's barrier, environmental groups are sounding the alarm.

Dan Millis, the program coordinator for the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, said the borderlands area that stretched about 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean was rich in wildlife. 

"There are more than 100 endangered species along the US- Mexico border, many of them here in Arizona," said Millis. 

From the Jaguar, to the Ocelot, and the Sonoran Pronghorn, Millis said without migration, the species would eventually die off, and pictures obtained by these environmental groups showed the animals trapped behind the border barrier.

"If that cuts their habitat in two, almost like we cut your house in two, your habitat would become much smaller.  It also prevents them from migrating like building a wall across a highway.  It makes it really difficult for the animal to survive.  You've got to have access to water, food, and eventually mates to reproduce," said Millis.

He added that it was ironic that in order to prevent law breakers from coming across the US-Mexico border, the US government was willing to "break" US environmental laws.

"Many laws were waived to build this wall, so we talk about law breaking on the border, these barriers right here are the biggest law breakers on the border," said Millis.

He also worried about the impact on flooding. Much of the wall was built through flash flood zones. 

'The wall acts as a dam.  The water gets deeper and deeper and sometimes the wall falls down," said Millis.

The flooding had led to major destruction of roads and property on both sides of the fence.

Millis said just as the rest of the country could rely on federal Clean Air and Water acts to protect them and the environment from harm, those same rules should apply in our nation's borderlands.

He added that the border wall was not stopping illegal immigrants or drug smugglers from getting across, as they could easily climb it. The only thing it was stopping was the flow of water and wildlife.

"The people and environment on the border are going to suffer, and it's not going to solve our border problems," said Millis.

 ABC 15 reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for information on how they plan to address these environmental concerns as they proceeded with plans to build a new wall.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection sent us a statement saying:

"At this early stage, DHS cannot reasonably forecast what the environmental impacts of a wall might be.  As noted, however, DHS is committed to responsible environmental stewardship.  That means that DHS will continue to assess potential impacts, coordinate with relevant stakeholders, and to the extent possible, offset or mitigate potential impacts."

He also stated:  

"CBP has Environmental Stewardship Plans and Reports available online for projects at all four border states including five reports linked to project in Arizona. I would suggest you examine the documents at the link below. The contents should address your questions and any concerns raised by the group.”

Click HERE for that document. 

From the main link "Prior to fence construction, CBP prepared Environmental Stewardship Plans (ESPs) that summarized the natural and cultural resource surveys conducted during fence planning and estimated the potential environmental impacts based on the initial fence design. During construction, environmental monitors ensured implementation of the Best Management Practices (BMP) that were developed and recorded in the ESPs and reported on any deviations from the BMPs."

The Sierra club Grand Canyon chapter has posted a link to give people a "virtual tour" of the borderlands region. 

The project has been a collaborative effort between a broad array of organizations, including the Sierra Club, Wildlands Network and Humane Borders–a coalition of scientists and advocates. 


Embattled Borderlands can be viewed HERE.