Sunday, March 15, 2009

Border fences make critics fear for the area's wildlife

Arizona Daily Star
March 15, 2009
by Brady McCombs

It could take years to fully comprehend the environmental toll of border fencing, but critics say it is bound to create problems for the land and wildlife.

The attempts by environmentalists and public-land managers to address their concerns were brushed aside early on by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who invoked a provision of the 2005 Real ID Act that allowed a waiver of environmental and other federal regulations for border projects.

And it wasn't long after that problems began cropping up.

In testimony last year, Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. told a House subcommittee that near Douglas and Naco, construction workers dug up fragments of human remains in Tohono O'odham ancestral lands.

He also noted that during the construction, some birds died when they got stuck in 12-inch-diameter steel pipes.

The Gila woodpeckers were confused by the pipes, which looked enough like a saguaro cactus that the birds flew into the open ends and became trapped, said Jeffrey Brooks, who worked as an archaeological and ecological construction monitor for a private company in the spring of 2008. The exact number that died is unknown, but it was probably as high 100, he said.

Now anecdotal evidence is showing that the fences are harming wildlife, said Matt Clark, Southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife, a group that works to protect endangered species.

"They are encountering the wall, hesitant at the wall, being deflected away from the wall, in some cases hitting the wall or getting stuck in the bollards," Clark said. "Indications are that it is having the sorts of impact that we anticipated."

Those concerns include fragmentation of habitat; increase of wildlife disturbance by motorized vehicles that now have more access; and severing of migration and dispersal corridors for animals such as the jaguar, ocelot, black bear, cougar and coatimundi, all species that require large amounts of habitat, Clark said.

And there are other problems attributed to the fencing, including flooding at Nogales and Lukeville during the 2008 monsoon that was caused, or at least compounded, by border fences.

Border Patrol officials say the fencing is beneficial to the environment and wildlife because it is cutting down on the trash left behind by illegal immigrants.

Clark and others argue that a real assessment of the border fence's adverse impact will have to await the completion of a formal study by a neutral agency. So far, however, nothing like that has been started.

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