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Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge – Ground Zero for Border Wall Expansion

A crew uses a drilling rig to extract soil samples in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. (Jim Chapman / For The Times)
A crew uses a drilling rig to extract soil samples in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas | Jim Chapman, For The Times

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Rio Grande River on the U.S. border with Mexico in south Texas, is one of the most ecologically important areas in the nation and unfortunately is at the forefront of the Trump Administration’s proposed expansion of the border wall. The Army Corps of Engineers, Customs and Border Control, and private contractors have been working in secrecy for months on the refuge in preparation for building the wall. Only within the past two weeks has the public learned of the Administration’s plans.

South Texas along the Rio Grande River has some of the greatest biological diversity of anywhere in the world – mainly because four distinct climates converge here: Subtropical, Temperate, Coastal, and Desert. This, in turn, fuels one of the biggest eco-tourism hotspots on the planet, supporting the economy and thousands of jobs.

Santa Ana NWR is one of three refuges in the South Texas Refuge Complex and is the heart of this biological hotspot. As one of the top birding destinations in the United States, the refuge attracts more than 165,000 visitors each year and generates an estimated $462 million to the local economy. Home to over 400 species of birds, 450 types of native plants, half of the U.S. species of butterflies, and many endangered, threatened or candidate species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, Santa Ana NWR and surrounding landscapes provide critical habitat susceptible to disturbance if the wall is constructed in the fragile habitat.

Ocelot (Leopordus pardalis) | USFWS

The proposed wall could span three miles through the refuge and consist of a concrete base, acting as a levee, and 18-foot high fencing on top, permanently altering the landscape to the detriment of iconic wildlife. If the wall were constructed as described it would eliminate migratory movements of mammals, which could include endangered ocelots, jaguarundi, foxes, and deer that cross the Rio Grande for food or shelter, and lead to genetic inbreeding and eventually species extinction. In the event of floods, the concrete levee wall would trap and drown wildlife that would be unable to escape.

The latest reports conclude that the wall could block access to the refuge. The expected path of the wall would cut off the visitors center, located on the north side of the refuge, from the south side of the refuge, limiting public access and undermining efforts underway to connect people to nature and the great public-private partnerships facilitated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Considered one of the crown jewels in the National Wildlife Refuge System, Santa Ana NWR is steadily building trust within the surrounding communities through its partnerships and programs. For instance, the refuge works with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District through their Nature Conservation for Future Generations to restore native habitats on school campuses. And the refuge provides programs geared for the business community, reinforcing the refuge’s contributions to businesses and the local economy.

Gisela Chapa, Refuge Manager at Santa Ana NWR conducts an educational program with local children | Tandem Stills and Motion
Gisela Chapa, Refuge Manager at Santa Ana NWR conducts an educational program with local children | Tandem Stills and Motion

Despite strong opposition in border communities and continued debate in Congress, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to receive federal funding in Fiscal Year 2018 to pay for the construction of the wall, and construction could begin as early as November 2017. By starting the construction of the wall at Santa Ana NWR, the administration can avoid extended litigation with private landowners. Because the refuge is federal property, the Administration also has powerful legal loopholes at its disposal that would waive all compliance with standard environmental safeguards, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The Refuge Association opposes the construction of the border wall through the refuge, which would disrupt the environmental integrity of one of the most biologically diverse areas in the U.S. and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

We at the Refuge Association believe that the Administration needs to conduct a broader assessment for the best placement of infrastructure and border technology to serve its purpose – a physical wall may not be the most effective way for the Administration to achieve its goals. The construction of the border wall on the refuge is an easy political move for the Administration, but it may not be an effective use of federal dollars to resolve protection of U.S. territory. Construction of the border wall would be detrimental to Santa Ana NWR, its wildlife and their habitat corridors, and the outdoor recreation community. We urge the Administration to immediately halt its secretive push to build a wall on the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and instead allow the public and the local community to have an open debate about what is best for the nation – including our treasured wildlife resources.

 

Click here to contact your lawmakers today and urge them to oppose construction of the border wall through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2017/07/santa-ana-national-wildlife-refuge-ground-zero-for-border-wall-expansion/

5 comments

  1. Denise Koentje says:

    Surely you can come up with a better idea than destroying a National Wildlife Refuge. I’m so ashamed of the Trump administration and its lack of care for the environment, our wildlife, and conservation.

  2. Monica Essenmacher, Port Crescent Hawk Watch says:

    Talk is cheap. Law suits would halt construction. Conservation organizations need to “put their money where their mouth is”.

  3. Warrior says:

    That’s all you group of Lawyers claiming to be environmentalist do is sue sue sue. You do nothing to protect the animals, nature or the environment. Your just a big fony bunch of greedy scam artist stealing from the hard working American tax payers. Go do something constructive and find a solution to your problems and stop suing everyone. Your a dying breed. The wall will go up human safety is more important.

    1. Christopher says:

      This isnt about Human Safety. This is pure racist bigotry and pandering to ignorance. This whole project is ridiculous, uneccesary and will be wholly ineffective and a massive waste of money. The only thing it will do is destroy the land and irreparably harm fragile ecosystems and endangered animals. This needs to get shut down, now!

      1. Scott Cadenasso says:

        Maybe it’s time to MOBILIZE, we all need to put our money where our mouths are, and our bodies in the way of construction workers assigned to enact another bad plan. Bad plans seem to be the stock in trade of the current administration, but this tactic of preferring to ask for forgiveness rather than permission is one which can and should be countered by those who give a damn about the proper workings of our system of government.

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