Conservation Commentary: Oppose the Border Wall!

By Mike Evans, Desert Rivers Audubon Society Conservation Director

We all know that there are negative wildlife conservation impacts to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. But can we cite examples and relevant corollaries during a good discussion over a beer or two? My goal to give you the rhetorical ammunition that you need, along with some sources of additional information, in case you want to read more on the topic.

Let’s start with habitat destruction and degradation. The physical barrier will cause only part of the damage. Roads built for the construction, maintenance and continual monitoring of the wall will generate perpetual environmental degradation. Rivers, streams and dry washes will be bridged, channeled or blocked. Because the width of the destruction has yet to be calculated, let alone published, conservationists may still weigh in, if given the chance, on the preliminary and final designs.

Support facilities will be needed during construction. Anyone who has spent time in our national parks and forests know that the Civilian Conservation Corps bases that were used during the Great Depression are still visible 75 years later. Environmental degradation in the desert will last even longer, as there are fewer environmental forces such as rain or snow to help erase the presence of humans.

The ongoing damage to the environment due to maintenance, management, and patrol should not be minimized. Those who have spent time along the border tell stories about being stopped by the Border Patrol in the back country. Motion detectors, sound monitors and observation positions are already used to monitor the border. These will remain in operation, perhaps used more frequently, once a border wall is in place. Motor vehicles will continue to contribute air, water and soil contamination, and runoff from roads will add petroleum distillates to the scarce water and the fragile soil. Noise pollution from vehicles and drones will further affect the wilderness experience. Exhaust, especially by semi-trucks during construction, will foul the air.

The sand and gravel needed to make concrete and asphalt will require extensive mining and concrete manufacturing, resulting in pollution from burning fossil fuels to run the facilities and the industrial trucks that will be hauling the material. Mining also exacerbates dust, already a feature of our desert air. Scenic views will be degraded along with the rest of the environment.

The environmental degradation caused by mining, smelting, manufacturing, and transportation of raw and finished product should also be considered. Rebar and wiring are facts of life in the 21st century. They must be produced somewhere and transported to the border for use. This should motivate Audubon chapters around the country to band together to oppose this environmental catastrophe.

We may safely assume that most of the sand and gravel mining will probably occur near the wall, an infrequently discussed factor. The destruction resulting from sand and gravel mining (most often in our river beds) has yet to be analyzed, however southwesterners are familiar with the disruption and pollution caused by this industry.

While we don’t know the final design of the project, you can be certain that enormous footers will be required to support the wall,and concrete is the primary construction material for footers. Parts of the wall will be anchored directly to bedrock, but the demand for concrete will not be abated. When you discuss this point, you should also mention the irony that the largest producer of cement in the American Southwest is a Mexican owned company!

Localized heat effects and changes in microclimates — and perhaps also to the regional climate — will also be an outgrowth of the permanent change to the borderlands. Gardeners know that east facing and west facing walls have different summertime temperatures; ecologists know that north facing and south facing slopes have different environmental factors. The border wall will destroy microclimates that give the borderlands much of their diversity and result in a different plant and animal community adapted to the presence of this colossus. Over time diversity will diminish. Just look at our desert mountain preserves if you want a relevant example.

What will be the affect on the summer monsoon season? I am aware of no studies that look at this, and. the federal government plans to exempt the construction from all regulations that could slow down or stop the construction. Of course, this will be litigated. Still, the southwestern deserts and mountains biomes have evolved with the yearly gift of the summer monsoon. This continental weather feature should not be ignored.

Another environmental attribute of the borderlands is the pronounced presence of edge effects: changes that occur at the boundaries of adjacent habitats. When multiple habitats in proximity to one another are disturbed, the environment becomes less diverse. We love southeastern Arizona because of the diversity of life. Say goodbye to that diversity if the wall is constructed.

This massive wall and all its support infrastructure will slice through and fragment multiple world-class habitats, including World Heritage Biosphere Reserves. The sky island connection to the Sierra Madres will be cut. The floodplain of the Rio Grande and the Colorado River will be affected. The Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts will be bisected. National wildlife refuges will be carved up. It will be a scar visible from outer space!

The logging and mining industries offer examples of habitat destruction. Clear cutting, open pit mining, and mountain top mining are ready examples of what future generations will see along our southern border. The destruction will not be undone during human existence on this planet.

Finally, there are the wildlife conservation issues affecting the jaguar, ocelot and Sonoran Pronghorn migration. Throw in unknown effects on plant pollination, bird migration, and fish, reptile and amphibian populations, and you have the makings of an environmental catastrophe. Forget about the ocelot and the jaguar repopulating their former range. The Sonoran Pronghorn population will be bisected. They are barely holding on as it is. The effects on the rest — plants, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians — are unknown.

Do you have enough ammunition for rhetorical battle yet? This will be a fight, make no mistake about it, if we are to stop this monstrosity from occurring. I’m ready, how about you?

For more reading, check out these sources:

The Environmental Consequences of a Wall on the U.S.-Mexico Border

NBC News
Trump’s Border Wall ‘Catastrophic’ for Environment, Endangered Species: Activists

Scientific American
Trump's Wall Could Cause Serious Environmental Damage

The Washington Post
Trump’s border wall would slice through wildlife refuges and cut off U.S. territory in Texas

Possible Border Wall Plans Would Be 'Devastating' for Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Embattled Borderlands: Will the border wall strike a fatal blow to one of the most imperiled wild regions in North America?

Sierra Club
Borderlands: No Border Wall!

Center for Biological Diversity
No Border Wall

Defenders of Wildlife
Proposed Border Wall Funding Threatens Wildlife, Communities

Mike Evans
Conservation Director

Here are a few more links to articles regarding conservation issues that need addressing! Please read and see if there is something you can do to help. Thanks!
Conservation fund a fight over role, reach of federal government.
Viewpoints: Congress is about to kill a key parks fund.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Hummingbird Habitat

Contact our Volunteer Coordinator Anne Koch to join Desert Rivers Audubon in caring for and improving the demonstration Hummingbird Habitat at Desert Breeze Park, 660 N. Desert Breeze Parkway, Chandler. We prune, plant and water every second Saturday.

Volunteers at the Hummingbird Habitat
Volunteers ready for work!

Current Advocacy Campaigns

National Audubon

Create a native plant garden for birds at your place of worship.

Echinacea purpurea and American Goldfinch. Photo: Will Stuart
Echinacea purpurea and American Goldfinch. Photo: Will Stuart

Desert Rivers Audubon supports the efforts of the National Audubon Society on national conservation issues. To learn more about these campaigns, visit the National Audubon Society's Conservation page to see how you can help with nationwide conservation issues.

Regional Issues

Desert Rivers Audubon supports and is actively collaborating with Audubon Arizona, other local Audubon chapters around Arizona, a large group of other local and regional conservation organizations, and the National Audubon Society on two efforts: the Western Rivers Action Network (WRAN), Audubon's multi-state grassroots effort to protect rivers, and the adoption, implementation and stewardship of Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

To learn more about Important Bird Areas, including our own local IBA, The Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch Park, go to:

Local Issues

We are working with our local governments on a couple of issues. We have concerns about feral cats management policies in Chandler and Mesa. We are also interested in seeing a Conservation Management Plan adopted for the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch Park. We will let you know when we need additional assistance on these issues.

For those interested in additional conservation work beyond our on-going efforts with the Burrowing Owl Habitat, Hummingbird Garden, and reporting on the feral cat sightings at Gilbert's Riparian Preserve, volunteers are always needed at the two conservation areas in our area, the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, and Veteran's Oasis Park in Chandler. Local advocacy needs will be announced at our monthly meetings or posted here on our website, on our Facebook page and in your monthly email from our Constant Contact service.

Our Desert Rivers

Photo : Mike Rupp

Verde River

With huge growth experienced over the last 10 or so years in the Prescott area, several cities are attempting to divert Verde River water into a pipeline to serve the cities’ needs, and pump more groundwater from the Big Chino aquifer- both of which could result in depletion of Verde River water to the detriment of many species that depend upon the river as it courses southward all the way to Phoenix. This seems to be an old story- most other Arizona streams and rivers have similarily been assailed by municipalities to supply their growing residential demand. Will the Verde go the route of the San Pedro River, which ran dry for the first time ever only a few years ago?

What can be done top prevent one of our last natural river systems from being ruined? See Conservation Page 2.

San Pedro River

Another Arizona river that is in imminent danger is the San Pedro River. Only one of two major rivers that flow north out of Sonora Mexico and into the Gila River, the San Pedro River is one of the last remaining un-dammed rivers in the southwestern United States.

The cottonwood-willow lined stream flows about 140 miles supporting near 350 bird species as well as providing habitat for up to 4 million migrating birds annually. Area development and the resulting groundwater pumping needed to supply these thirsty humans has resulted in an unsustainable drop in the rivers aquifer thus depriving the riparian vegetation and wildlife of its critical water source.

What is being done: The Upper San Pedro Partnership is a collaborative effort between local, state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations (including Audubon) working to develop management plans that address water conservation for the United States section of the upper San Pedro Basin. It is anticipated that retirement of irrigated agricultural land and meaningful water conservation efforts will increase stream flows in the next few years.

The Gila River

The 2004 Arizona Water Settlement Act (AWSA) was an act of congress that addressed the outstanding and senior water rights of Arizona’s tribal entities and issues of water rights to Central Arizona Project Water Rights. The settlement of the tribal claims is considered environmentally sound as existing water infrastructure would be repaired thus increasing water effiency for tribal interests.

Also in the AWSA, are provisions to guarantee New Mexico’s claim to Colorado River water. This was accomplished by trading 14,000 acre-feet of Gila River water for New Mexico’s Cap claim. Translated, this trade allows New Mexico to construct infrastructure to store Gila River water that would normally flow down the river channel thus depriving the riverine system of much of its natural flow. The construction of the proposed off-stream reservoir to store this water is on Mangas Creek in the New Mexico Gila River watershed. Many environmental groups urged all federal and state governmental agencies, Congress and the New Mexico Legislature to oppose this poorly designed project. The proposed dam and pump station facilities and water distribution (see Conservation Page 2)