Saturday, September 1, 2007

No Significant Impact on the Environment, or Divide and Conquer

By Roy Emrick, President
Friends of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

The Final Environmental Assessment (EA) of the proposed seven mile "Pedestrian Fence Near Sasabe" (along the southern border of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona) is that it will have no significant impact on the environment. Of course the EA was rushed through and allowed zero days for public comment, so that construction could begin August 27. Since they could have invoked REAL ID, which allows Homeland Security to ignore any law they feel is in their way, it is surprising they gave a nod to environmental issues. This is just one segment of a 700 mile long border fence approved by Congress last December. The wall is being contracted in bits and pieces. Each one will presumably have its own EA. Each one will no doubt be found to have no significant (local) impact on the environment.

Of course, in the aggregate, the wall will have a tremendous negative impact on the environment, and wildlife in particular. Ample data show that the walls built so far have just diverted human traffic to more remote areas and have reduced neither traffic nor deaths. Wildlife experts and environmental activists from both the US and Mexico warn of the negative impacts on jaguars, Sonoran pronghorn, and Mexican black bears by isolating border animals into smaller groups, affecting their genetic diversity. Such influences would have to be dealt with in an environmental assessment of an entire border wall.

However, for decades NEPA has been subverted by this divide and conquer approach. For example, no basin-wide EIS has been done for water development projects in the Colorado River Basin. As long ago as the 1970's, when the Central Arizona Project was being built, a basin-wide study pushed for by environmentalists was successfully fought off by the water interests.

The Environmental Assessment does make the following concession: Direct impacts to wildlife habitats and wildlife populations are expected by the permanent conversion of up to 51 acres of vegetation communities to the fence and maintenance road. .........Such designs would not impede migration of most wildlife species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. Travel corridors of larger mammals, however, would be permanently lost by the construction of the fence. Disturbance to surrounding wildlife populations would occur during construction activities, including increased stress by the presence of humans and construction equipment, noise, and lighting. These impacts would be considered temporary and minimal. Note that they consider only the impact on the land directly involved in construction.

Table I shows the construction equipment that will be involved. There will be a staging area somewhere along the road into headquarters. You can judge the effect on wildlife of all of this equipment running in and out for 140 days from the staging area to the border.

How did we get to this situation? For one thing, Congress's inability to enact a comprehensive immigration bill has resulted in criticism of Senators and Representatives by constituents. To keep the home folk happy numerous bills have been introduced and enacted for the construction of real and virtual border walls. Last December the House passed a measure under which this wall is being built: "the Secure Fence Act, [which], mandates the construction of approximately 700 miles of pedestrian fence along the southwestern border. Within the next 2 years, 225 miles of these 700 miles are scheduled to be completed. The first 75 miles of these 225 miles would occur in areas that have already been developed (e.g., currently contains permanent vehicle barrier [PVB] or TVB) and thus, little or no additional environmental impacts would be expected." [Quote from the EA] Thus, their basic premise is that there is essentially no difference between a barrier that you can step over and a 15 foot high wall with six inch gaps.

It gets better: Arizona Senator Kyl, who had taken a lot of flack from conservative constituents, attached a rider to a defense bill last month to build a longer, triple wall. Because of the high profile of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, (and because it is an election year?) he made a token concession by dropping a 15-mile portion along the San Pedro. No such concession was made for our Buenos Aires NWR (or for the San Bernardino or other border refuges). Homeland Security says it will consider environmental issues, but the READ ID law says they can waive any law that they want, so not much stock can be taken in that.

Until we deal with the causes of migration, such as NAFTA, the farm bill and its subsidized corn, immigration reform and other political issues, walls won't do the job. Walls without large numbers of troops to patrol them will be breached. The cost of such a wall along the entire border would be staggering. Please write or call your Congress-folk and Senators and tell them you oppose border walls.

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aslinn said...
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