Fencing In, Fencing Out

A recent study, “Fenced In: How the Global Rise of Border Walls Is Stifling Wildlife” concluded that more than 60% of mammals and 71% of birds have ranges that cross international borders. Current statistics also show that seventy-four border walls currently exist across the globe, six times the number at the end of the Cold War.

In the coming years, climate change will force many species to move to new habitats. Another study, “Global Inequities and political borders challenge nature conservation under climate change,” concluded that by 2070, 35% of mammals and 29% of birds are projected to need over half of their ranges in countries they do not currently inhabit. In other words, these species need to move if they are going to survive. And not only are humans contributing to climate change, we are now putting up barriers so wildlife cannot adapt. Is it any wonder that wildlife everywhere is in decline?

The study named three borders that have the highest numbers of species at risk: the border between China and Russia, the border between India and Myanmar, and the border between the United States and Mexico.

Conservationists have known for decades that the U.S.-Mexico border wall is threatening wildlife. And the situation is only getting worse. They’ve taken camera footage of deer, mountain lions, and black bears pacing along the wall, desperately trying to get to water, food, and mates on the other side.

According to the study, the barriers along parts of the US-Mexico border have already been found to have decreased the number of mountain lions and coati, and the planned extensions of the border wall are likely to prevent re-establishment of endangered species, such as the Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn.

Anyone who has visited the wall can easily see the destruction of habitat caused by building the wall. Vegetation and geological formations in national parks and forests and sacred sites on native lands have been blasted away to create a smoother path for the wall. As if that weren’t depressing enough, there are the issues of maintenance and surveillance, because what good is a wall if it isn’t regularly patrolled? So there needs to be a road, at least on the American side, along the wall. And to conveniently get to that border road requires thousands of access roads at regular intervals for all those border patrol agents and maintenance personnel to use.

All those agents and construction crews and maintenance personnel require vast areas for equipment storage and places to sleep, eat, and work. Add in more habitat destruction for all those buildings and parking lots. I’ve been on the US-Arizona border, twice. The scale of the system is mind-boggling.

Not to mention the money. Salaries, equipment, services, uniforms, vehicles, surveillance and communication systems. As a former private investigator, I’ve always thought about who stands to benefit from any project. It wasn’t until I viewed all the infrastructure that I understood how so many people were making a fortune from the border wall.

In 2019, I published Borderland, a mystery that takes place in the area along the US-Arizona border, and involves a rare jaguar and a missing Latina wildlife photographer.

I wrote Borderland to highlight all the problems at the border. Which are so many that it’s hard to hold all of them in your imagination: desperate immigrants, drug runners, human traffickers, officials who cannot always distinguish who is American and who is not, angry landowners whose property has been confiscated or divided by the construction of the wall, indigenous tribes whose traditional lands have been desecrated, self-appointed “militia” types patrolling their self-assigned areas, armed with assault rifles. Baking summer heat, frigid desert nights, flash floods in violent rainstorms, migratory wildlife that can no longer travel.

The wall is a crazy patchwork of materials for which we have paid billions, and which migrants regularly climb over, tunnel under, or simply cut through. The latest insanity is the governor of Arizona’s brilliant idea to fill in the gaps by stacking shipping containers and topping them with razor wire. Who is selling the containers? And who is making money delivering them and stacking them? Of course, given enough time, people will find a way over or through them, too. Wildlife can’t.

Three years after I wrote Borderland, I’m sorry to see that the insanity continues, and Americans are paying for it. Is it any wonder that nobody asks what can be done differently? Every American should take a drive along the border wall to see what our tax dollars have paid for. And if you happen to glimpse a pronghorn or a coati, take a photograph so you can show others what used to live here.

UPDATE: The US Department of Justice is now suing the state of Arizona for illegal placement of these shipping containers on federal land. But the citizens of Arizona, or perhaps all American taxpayers, will now have to pay for their removal.

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