One of the problems with fencing off the border between the US and Mexico is that it makes it impossible for animals to pass back and forth.
Last year, critical habitat was protected to help the jaguar population rebound from a handful today. 1,200 square miles of it spans the border of Arizona and New Mexico, where jaguars will hopefully enter from Mexico. But that’s not all – many protected areas are at or near the border from California to Texas.
Also last year, President Obama protected 500,000 acres that abut the border in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico.
But Republicans want even more border security and have introduced bills that waive environmental laws that could get in the way.
Bills introduced would waive over a dozen laws including the Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act within 100 miles of the border. They specifically say that Interior and Agriculture secretaries "shall not impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of US Customs and Border Protection."
Actually, the agencies have been working under an agreement with Homeland Security since 2006 that allows patrols to access protected lands, even driving cars and ATVs, but Republicans say that’s not enough.
Sonoran pronghorn antelope live in small herds on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border. Beyond impeding animal movement and migration, infrastructure associated with fences impacts even species that can get around it, such as roads and high-voltage lighting that poses problems for bats.
Fences have "a negative effect on everything from insects flying around lights instead of pollinating cactuses, to the birds that eat them, right up to the large predators like the jaguars," says William Radke, Manager of Arizona’s San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.
"A lot of migratory birds migrate at night, using stellar navigation and the moon to navigate. Lighting them up can disrupt a bird’s ability to feed and rest and it may impact its survivability later on," he says.
Last year, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation – which facilitates collaboration between Canada, US and Mexico – released priority conservation areas along the Texas-Mexico border that includes 11 protected areas. The region "features highly diverse arid and semi-arid habitats inhabited by endangered plants and animals, and provides a vital migratory stopping point for many species of birds and animals," they say.
31% of endangered species in the US live in the region around the US-Mexico border, the most in anywhere in our country, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Agencies’ efforts and physical infrastructure have done significant damage to wildlife habitats. Their use of sensor fields, roads, and triple fences up to 50 meters deep create erosion and dust. The physical presence of vehicular patrols, all-night artificial lighting, noise, dragging of screens to clear a slate that makes footprints visible, and the clearing of brush also degrade sensitive habitat as homeland security forces seek view and access points.
"Park rangers and forest rangers are both law enforcement officers, and all the protected lands that we create have increased federal personnel on the ground in these areas," he said. "We have a lot of fugitives that go through public lands areas. Often, rangers do the pursuing because they know the areas better and they understand the terrain," Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain Director of the Vet Voice Foundation.
In fact, there are people focused on creating Big Bend-Rio Bravo International Park that straddles the borders.