Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brownsville NO BORDER WALL Pachanga in the Park

Everyone is invited to the Brownsville No Border Wall Pachanga in the Park on Saturday, September 29. This is the latest in a series of community rallies to oppose the building of a wall along the Texas-Mexico border sponsored by the No Border Wall coalition. It will begin at 5:00 pm at Dean Porter Park in Brownsville, Texas.

Participants hope to show the nation just what is at risk if a wall is built through the city of Brownsville and along the rest of the border. Bishop Raymundo J. Peña of the Diocese of Brownsville will be the keynote speaker. The Bishop, whose diocese operates 107 parishes and missions for the almost 800,000 Catholics who live in the Rio Grande Valley, has been outspoken against the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Bishop’s opposition echoes the sentiment of the Vatican, where a top official has called the U.S. plan to build a border wall “inhuman.” Community leaders, including state representatives Eddie Lucio III and Juan Escobar, will voice the concerns of their constituents, and local experts will discuss the negative impact a wall could have on our communities, historical landmarks, farms, and natural areas. While the children fly specially-made kites and smash a wall-shaped piñata, adults can listen and dance to live South Texas music into the evening.

Building a border wall along the Rio Grande will cut a wide swath through the city of Brownsville. Maps to date have shown the proposed wall following the flood control levee that runs through the city, rather than the river itself. Parts of the downtown area, with its rich history and charming old buildings, are at risk for demolition because they lie so close to this levee. The University of Texas at Brownsville’s International Technology, Education and Commerce Campus could be cut off entirely by the wall, since it lies to the south of the levee. A border wall could also threaten the close economic and social ties between Brownsville and its sister city Matamoros. Outside the city, landowners and farmers could lose land and critical access to river water for irrigation. A double-layered wall and Border Patrol road could also cut through nearby natural areas such as the Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary and the Nature Conservancy’s Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve. University of Texas at Brownsville Vice President of External Affairs Dr. Tony Zavaleta said, “In my forty odd years of studying the U.S.-Mexico border I have never seen anything suggested by either government that is so wrong headed and destructive to our communities and our people as this border wall.”

To get to Dean Porter Park, exit 6th Street from Expressway 77/83. Turn right on 6th and take another right at the first light, Ringgold Street. Turn right again onto Dean Porter Park Street. The park entrance will be on the left.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Action Alert - Public Comments on the Border Wall in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Bulldozers are already clearing vegetation to build the seven mile long section of border wall on either side of the Sasabe, Arizona port of entry (see below). The Department of Homeland Security prepared an Environmental Assessment (not to be confused with the more stringent and comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that should be completed for a project in sensitive habitat) which, not surprisingly, found that construction of the wall would have “no significant impact.” To date Secretary Chertoff has not issued a Real ID waiver of environmental laws, so DHS cannot legally ignore the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other relevant statutes.

Part of the Sasabe border wall will be built on the southern edge of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is currently working to determine whether or not a 15 foot tall steel wall is compatible with its mission, and has opened a brief public comment period. It is important that anyone who is concerned about the environmental impacts that the border wall will have take advantage of this opportunity and write a letter.

According to the draft Compatibility Determination,

The Refuge was established on August 1, 1985 “ conserve (A) fish or wildlife which are listed as endangered species or threatened species .... or (B) plants ....” 16 U.S.C. 1534 (Endangered Species Act of 1973) and for the “...development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources....” 16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4) (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956). Congressional records and other pertinent files show that conservation of the masked bobwhite quail was the major impetus behind establishment of the Buenos Aires NWR. Habitat restoration and the existence of a self-sustaining population of masked bobwhite quail remains a primary goal of the Refuge.

In total this portion of the border wall will clear 51 acres of habitat, and will be an impassible barrier for large terrestrial animals such as pronghorn and jaguar. In the last few years jaguar have been photographed in southern Arizona, giving hope that they may be able to move back into their former U.S. range. While according to the Border Patrol a border wall will only slow a human crosser by 5 minutes, a jaguar will find it impossible to climb over a 15 foot high steel wall.

Unfortunately, the draft Compatibility Determination finds construction of the wall to be compatible with the refuge’s mission. In many places it simply repeats assertions from the Environmental Assessment. These include the statement that “Jaguars will still be able to move through other areas of the border,” which conveniently ignores the fact that most of the Arizona border will be walled off, not just the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It is important that this flawed argument be pointed out in public comments, along with the basic incompatibility of a wall in a wildlife refuge. The Compatibility Determination and the Environmental Assessment that it is based upon focus narrowly on the footprint of the wall, ignoring the fragmentation of habitat that extends beyond the refuge’s borders. The refuge is not an island, it is a portion of a larger ecosystem, and the ability of animals to travel through that ecosystem is vital to its continued viability.

The public comment period on the Buenos Aires National Refuge’s draft Compatibility Determination closes on September 18. It is crucial that we all take advantage of the opportunity to comment on its inadequacies and flawed determination. Comments must be sent to:

Refuge Manager
Buenos Aires NWR
P.O. Box 109
Sasabe, Arizona 85633

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.