The following letter, signed by 18 environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Audubon, was sent to members of the House / Senate conference committee that will be debating the DHS appropriations bill. Currently, the Senate version of the bill contains an amendment requiring hundreds of miles of new border wall. The House version does not require more walls.
On behalf of our millions of members and supporters across the entire country, the undersigned organizations are writing to ask that you remove Sen. DeMint’s amendment #1399 from the Homeland Security Appropriations Act and continue to support efforts to monitor and mitigate negative impacts of border wall construction.
Senate amendment #1399 is the latest attempt to extend the failed policy of building more border walls along our southwest border. In addition to negatively impacting the wildlife and natural resources of the borderlands, the provision would come at great expense to our nation’s border security programs and the American taxpayer. While tying the hands of border security experts by requiring an arbitrary number of miles of wall construction, this language would drain funding from other border security programs in order to cover the growing cost of border wall construction. Taxpayers have paid approximately $2.4 billion for border wall construction to date, and according to the Government Accountability Office, one mile of border wall now costs nearly $8 million.
Nearly one-third of the 1,950 mile U.S.-Mexico border lies within military, tribal, and public lands, including Wilderness areas, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, National Monuments, State Parks and hundreds of miles within the National Park system. Much of this country’s most spectacular and imperiled wildlife, including two of America’s most endangered big cats, jaguars and ocelot, bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, and bison, depend upon protected public lands along the border for intact habitat and survival.
Numerous studies have highlighted the damage that border infrastructure has caused to the borderlands’ ecology and wildlife. The National Park Service issued a report in August, 2008 confirming that the border wall along the Lukeville Port of Entry has exacerbated seasonal flooding and has caused accelerated scouring and erosion on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. A recent study in Conservation Biology showed that the border wall fractures the habitat connectivity that wildlife like the pygmy owl and bighorn sheep need for survival. As climate change shifts habitats and alters migration routes, establishing wildlife corridors and protecting habitat connectivity becomes even more critical.
The damage that border walls have caused to the unique natural values of the borderlands has been exacerbated by the Secretary of Homeland Security’s authority to waive any applicable laws to expedite border wall construction. This unprecedented authority has prompted the waiving of 37 environmental, historic preservation, tribal protection and other federal laws along with related state and local laws across 563 miles of the border.
In order to help address the negative impacts of border walls that have already been constructed, the House Homeland Security Appropriations bill included $40 million for border monitoring and mitigation. We strongly support keeping this language in the final bill and believe that its inclusion would mark one more step towards repairing the damage done to communities and natural resources along the border.
Again, we support the House version of the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, and as you move to conference we specifically ask that you remove Senate amendment #1399 from the final bill and continue to advance border monitoring and mitigation efforts.
The Arizona Zoological Society
Center for Biological Diversity
Defenders of Wildlife
International League of Conservation Photographers
League of Conservation Voters
National Audubon Society
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Rio Grande International Study Center
Southwest Environmental Center
Valley Nature Center
Western Lands Project
The Wilderness Society