Monday, August 29, 2011

New Study: Border Hysteria Imperils Wildlife

by Dan Millis

In a Congress plagued by immigration hysteria, none is more gravely afflicted than South Carolina’s Republican Senator Jim DeMint. Twice in two weeks he added border pork to Senate bills, both times calling for 300-plus miles of walls to be imposed between the U.S. and Mexico. These are the fourth and fifth times in less than two years that he has made such attempts.

Delirious and angry lawmakers like DeMint seem oblivious to the 650 miles of barriers and walls that already occupy the Southwest’s borderlands, exacting high costs on taxpayers and public lands. Another side effect these lawmakers suffer is an acute indifference to the impacts caused by their border madness.

A new study in the Diversity and Distributions journal identifies 49 species put most at risk by border walls and areas of intensive human land use along the U.S.-Mexico border. The study only considers amphibian, reptile, and non-volant (don't fly) mammal species, and identifies California, the Sky Islands, the Gulf Coast as the three regions most heavily impacted.

One unique aspect of this study is that it doesn’t just look at current impacts wrought by existing border walls and areas with a heavy human footprint. Potential future impacts from border wall expansions such as those proposed by DeMint are also taken into consideration, and the results are sobering:

This graph from the study shows a horizontal base line representing our 2,000 mile border with Mexico. The three faint vertical lines in the left half of the graph represent the state borders between California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The fatter horizontal line sitting atop the baseline shows where the taller “pedestrian” (10-25 feet tall) border walls are located along the border.

Then there is the vertical ‘species’ scale, which includes only species from the sample set that have already been listed as threatened, either binationally or by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The dashed line represents how many of these already-threatened species are put in grave danger by existing “pedestrian” border walls in each geographic location along the border. You’ll notice that there are few such species, which may be expected when working with such a small sample set of species to begin with.

However, the solid line is much less benign, with the number of vulnerable species spiking most dramatically here in Arizona (to the right [East] of first faint vertical line [CA-AZ border]). This line represents the number of already threatened species that would be pushed to the brink if proposals like DeMint’s were passed and border walls came to occupy even more precious habitat.

A key finding of the study states, "The REAL ID Act should be amended to reinstate environmental regulation of border security efforts." The REAL ID waiver of more than 30 vital federal protection laws along the border allowed walls to be built in violation of the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, and more.

Dan Millis is a Sierra Club Borderlands campaign organizer. To learn more about the Sierra Club's Borderlands Campaign visit

No comments: