Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Ecological Consequences Of A Border Wall Between The United States And México

A jaguarito
Hello, are you familiar with the jaguarundi? My guess is that you are probably not. It is a beautiful, shy feline that once thrived in the Southwest United States, but that is now almost extinct thanks to us humans. The remaining ones can be found along the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas, hiding in scarce patches of land where they can hunt during the night. And how about the jaguar? I am sure that you're more familiar with this cat, but you probably think of Africa when he comes to mind. Surprisingly, like the jaguarito, jaguars once roamed freely in the United States, but they also got in the way of humans, and went extinct fifty years ago.

The near disappearance of the jaguarundi and the fate of the jaguar may soon become the future at least 49 other species if a wall is built along the México border. That is according to the study "Conservation Biogeography of the US-México Border: a Transcontinental Risk Assessment of Barriers to Animal Dispersal." The research, conducted by professors Jesse Lasky, Walter Jetz and Timothy Keitt, says that among the animals that would be affected are amphibians like the giant marine toad and the ensatina, reptiles like the Great Basin collar lizard and the massasauga, and mammals like the California pocket mouse, the Arizona great squirrel and the Northern Baja deermouse.

México and the United States share more than 480 species listed in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and 119 of them are also included in the Endangered Species Act. Mexico's rainforests, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Agency says, "are among the richest reservoirs of biological material on the planet, and its diverse habitats are home to a broad array of wildlife, including many seasonal residents that migrate to and from the U.S."

Nearly 700 miles of the Mexican border are already fenced thanks to the Secure Fence Act of 2006. President Donald Trump, however, wants to build what he calls an "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful and beautiful" wall up to 55 feet high from sea to sea, providing no room for discussion about the environmental catastrophe that the structure could bring about. Trump says that the fence is necessary to stop illegal immigration, even though arrests conducted by the U.S. Border Patrol have fallen up to 70 percent this year, as he continues determined to deliver on a promise he made during his electoral campaign.

Tracking Endangered Borderland Species - The Sonoran Pronghorn 


Sonoran pronghorn. By Sonoran Desert Detectives
Another borderland species that is going the way of the jaguar and the jaguarundi is the Sonoran pronghorn. Thanks to the advance of human settlement and a prolonged drought, it almost disappeared in 2002, and a team of scientists from the University of Arizona has been tracking it in the Sonoran Desert. "There are 228 individuals estimated to be in the United States," said researcher Stephanie Doerries during an interview with the BBC World Service. "And early analyses suggests that pronghorn are responding differently to human disturbance compared to more natural disturbances."

The area where the pronghorn are being tracked is split by an eight-meter tall fence, "a very, very tight metal grill," Dorries says, "that is completely impermeable to people and wildlife. And it goes on through the national park about five miles. And what continues right the way to the mountains is a vehicle barrier. So there are metal posts in the ground, and they're about a meter and a half apart. The idea being that that will be permeable to wildlife."

Professor Dave Christianson, the leader of the research team, told the BBC that "when humans alter the landscape like this, and we suddenly change things, that's a great opportunity to be paying attention." Christianson says that the border runs right through the middle of a large chunk of the Sonoran pronghorn population. "So, before there was any form of barrier along the border, pronghorn were moving freely across the border. And they're still trying to do that. Being able to move where mates are is a critical part of surviving."

"There is No O'odham Word For Wall." 


O'odham leaders. Photo: American Indian Magazine
The ecological consequences of a border barrier are never a topic that is discussed the chambers of the United States Congress. In fact, this part of the issue is rarely covered by media outlets outside of the borderlands, where there is plenty of concern. The Tohono O'odham Nation, for example, does not even have a concept for the term "wall." The members of this tribe have been living en Sonora y Arizona since pre-colonization, and they strongly oppose the division of their land. In addition to making their travel and access to tombs difficult, these Native Americans say that such a structure would disturb flood paths that water their crops.

"After 9-11," Vice Chairman Verlon José says, "there were attempts to secure the border, and so in working with the Tohono O'odham Nation and the local people, there were many meetings that were held to work together to create another tool in terms of a vehicle barrier, so that animals could migrate freely back and forth." As a result of this joint efforts with the Border Patrol, which has two stations on the reservation, the Tohono O'dham Department of Public Safety reports an 84 percent drop in migrant apprehensions since 2003, and that they have seized an average of 313,000 pounds of illegal drugs per year.

The campaign by President Trump for the wall has prompted a wave of sharp responses from the people of the Southwest. Pima County in Arizona, Tucson, Santa Ana, the Tohono O'odham and the Pascua Yaqui Tribes; all of their leaders have approved resolutions rejecting his plans. California's Bill SB-30, which is currently working its way through the Legislature, would prohibit the State from awarding or renewing contracts to anyone who "provides goods or services to the Federal Government for the construction of a wall, fence or other barrier." Our border region, the measure argues, "is also home to numerous threatened and endangered species of plant and animal life, including California's official state amphibian, the California red-legged frog, and the endangered arroyo toad."

A poll conducted by Baseline And Associates in seven pairs of sister cities such as El Paso and Ciudad Juárez found 72 percent of people in the United States opposing the wall, while 86 percent of Mexicand feel the same way. The survey, which was commissioned by the Dallas Morning News, Cronkite News and Univision Arizona, also found 70 percent of United States respondents feeling that a wall is not as important to them as other priorities such as education and job sources. Baseline also polled border residents in 2001, and it says that "while people in México and the United States have opinions about the border, this unique survey explorers the opinions of people who live along the border."

Many businessmen from the border feel that a barrier may hurt their businesses and, as Telemundo Arizona has been reporting, that walls create alienation. "We need to be good neighbors," said Jaime Chamberlain, who owns a company in Tucson. "Good neighbors because it is good for our families. It is good for the social aspect. And not only that: the economic aspect is very, very important." This entrepreneur, who owns Chamberlain Distributing, a binationally-integrated company, feels that "I think that we need to see more details. We need to see the final cost. We need to see the psychological and economic effects. But more than anything, I believe that in the long term it will be hard to recover from what this will cause between the two countries."

El Jefe and the Return of the Jaguar


El Jefe
Among the clandestine crossers of the Southwest border, there is one that is very loved. It is a giant feline that came from México and was first spotted in the Santa Rita Mountains in 2011, scouting Arizona in search of a new home. A jaguar that was named "El Jefe" (The Boss) by the children of Felizardo Valencia Middle School during a naming contest. Footage of him  was captured by Conservation CATalyst in 2016, the last time he was heard of.

Before the arrival of humans to the American Continent, jaguars roamed in across 19 million square kilometers of land. During their peak, it is believed that there were up to 600 thousand of them, including in the territory that presently covers Arizona, California, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas. Now the total population is estimated to be at 65,000 maximum according to the study "The Jaguar's Spots Are Darker Than They Appear." None of them, however, have been born in the United States.

The report, which was conducted by researchers Gerardo Cevallos, José González Maya, Rodrigo Medellín and Heliot Zarza, found that jaguars have lost 55 percent of their habitat, and that a majority of their populations are in danger. "A large sub-population persists in Amazonia," the research says. But "virtually all others are threatened because of their small size, isolation, deficient protection, and the high human population density." The most endangered animals live in Central Panama and the Honduran Caribbean.

The jaguar was driven to extinction in the United States by humans in 1965. Some estimates say that up to 18 thousand of them were killed every year, many of them for their fur. They have also been wiped out in Argentina and El Salvador. The San Diego Zoo says that hunting is allowed for "problem animals" in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, México and Peru, and that trophy hunted is still allowed in Bolivia. "And even where protective legislation exists," the zoo informs "it is often ignored and un-enforced. Even in 'controlled reserves" jaguars are frequently shot."

Another jaguar was photographed in Arizona in November of 2016 by the Bureau of Land Management. This one was spotted in the Dos Cabezas Mountains. A third one has been sighted in the Huachuca Mountains, and he is known as Yo'oko Nashuareo (Jaguar Warrior) thanks to the students of Hiaki High School in the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. He was last seen in January of 2017, which is the date of the last of all sightings in the United States. "This supports the phenomenon," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Supervisor Steve Spangle said, "that jaguars seeking territories outside of competitive breeding areas in México continue to occasion Arizona.”

Thinking About the Future 


Gleason Partners LLC rendering
Just recently, Donald Trump asked companies who want to build the border wall to submit bids that include solar panels, and Gleason Partners LLC did just that. The renderings of this Vietnamese-owned entity's project feature dark planks 30-feet high and tilted, working at a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit and on top of a concrete base at least 10-feet thick without even an inch of a gap. "If there has to have a wall, let's make it green," Tom Gleason told Univision. Green for whom?, I wonder.

The jaguarito, the jaguar and the Sonoran pronghorn are just a few of the species which have been disappearing in the American Continent. Just look at the mammoth, or familiarize yourself with the passenger pigeon, the sea mink or the eastern elk, all of which were hunted down by humans. There used to be monkeys, elephants and cheetahs in the Americas as well. The number of prairie dogs, a species vital to ecosystems, is only at two percent of what it used to be just two centuries ago in the border area.

"We cannot dismember environmental policy," said Gerardo Cevallos, a lead researcher at the Ecological Institute of the National Autonomous University of México. Ceballos estimates that there are 780 species of borderland vertebrates whose habitats are very fragile. "We are killing populations and species of plants and animals without precedent [around the world]. We have the elephants. Every fifteen minutes an elephant is illegally killed on the planet. We lost 30 percent of their population in seven years."

Ceballos, who created the Janos Biosphere Reserve in the border with New México in an effort to revive the bison, says "I beg people to stop being spectators, and to become actors." With a sense of urgency, the researcher warns that "we cannot continue to allow the environment, which is fundamental, to continue to be destroyed. the wall along the border is the biggest challenge that humanity has faced, except for a nuclear war. The conservation of the biological diversity along the border will depend on the actions that the governments and people of both countries take."

Professors Lasky, Jetz and Keitt say that barriers that limit the movement of wildlife "could lead to humans and animals competing for the use of unfenced borderlands, which is an asymmetric contest favouring humans." It is very easy to support that view. "The problem of anti-immigration barriers, the researchers warn, "is particularly severe as U.S. law exempts their construction from adherence to all environmental regulatory and review requirements."

"Every stick and stone is sacred," said Verlon José back in the Tohono O'odham Nation: "Every creature is sacred. Every creature has a significant part in our way of life. A wall built on the border, we believe is not the answer to securing America. We believe that what is effective is cooperation, continuing cooperation and working together."

Link to Spanish Story

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