Sunday, November 01, 2020

Trump's border wall threatens endangered species and indigenous cultures alike

With all the US election shenanigans, Supreme Court nominations, race riots, raging pandemic, and general chaos south of the border, it's easy to forget some of the more insidious mayhem the Trump administration continues to perpetrate, largely out of the public eye. 

For example, remember that walll? It's all too easy to dismiss it, as Trump hasn't achieved anything like what he promised (thank god!) But, nevertheless, some 400 miles of it has been built over the last four years, and it is having a significant effect, not so much on illegal immigration, but on the local wildlife and biodiversity and on indigenous cultural lands.

A towering metal fence between 18 and 30 feet tall now snakes its way across the remote and pristine Sonoran Desert, paradoxically one of the most biodiverse areas of North America, not to mention new roads, perimeter lighting, and other technology. This includes bisecting the UNESCO reserve of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Lower Rio Grande Wildlife Reserve, and the Madrean Sky Islands.

Mr. Trump's fence (or "wall", as he insists on calling it) is fragmenting critically protected habitat, not to mention desecrating sacred indigenous cultural sites. Construction of the border fence has been mainly on public "protected" land, and the Department of Homeland Security has used sweeping powers to waive and override environmental protection laws like the Endangered Species Act. At least 93 endangered and threatened animal species can be found in these borderlands, including key mammals like jaguarundi, ocelot, javelina, Mexican grey wolf and North American jaguar.

It is not just the fence itself that is at issue. The San Bernardino National Wildlife Reserve has been compromised by the draining of a crucial wetland for water for concrete production for the barrier, putting the four threatened or endangered species for which the reserve was created at renewed risk. The Department of Homeland Security has run roughshod over the strenuous objections and warnings of the US Fish and Wilife Service. 

The Tohono O'odham Nation has had its ancestral lands split by the wall, and cross-border cultural and religious events have been stifled. Water levels in the sacred Quitobaquito springs have been falling at unprecedented rates as construction crews tap the local aquifer for water to make concrete for the barrier. Monument Hill in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, another O'odham sacred site, was dynamited by construction crews, all with the blessings of the DHS. Native protests have been met with tear gas and an official show of force.

Very few people are probably even aware of what is going on in the environs of Mr. Trump's famous wall. I know I wasn't. Four more years of Trump idiocy and insensitivity could have permanent and dramatic ill effects on the wildlife of the area, and on indigenous relations. We really cannot afford such a travesty. Unfortunately, the kind of people who will vote for the man - and remember, we are talking about tens of millions of people here - care about neither of these things.

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