If it is ever built, Trump’s US-Mexico border wall would pose a threat to vulnerable wildlife and plants, as well as to the growing ecotourism industry in the border regions of Texas. Norma Fowler and Tim Keitt, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, have published a letter that outlines the potential ecological damage from such a major project. Currently, Texas has walls along approximately 100 miles of its border with Mexico. “Up to now, the wall has either gone through cities or deserts,” said Fowler. “This is the Rio Grande we’re talking about here. It’s totally different.”
The proposed wall is set to cut through hundreds of miles of protected federal land, including much of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. “We have high biodiversity because of the river and because Texas extends so far south,” explained Fowler. “I and other Texas biologists are very concerned about the impact this will have on our rich natural heritage.” Fowler and Keitt conducted a scientific literature review of 14 other publications to support the concerns outlined in the letter. The authors express particular interest in the protection of the threatened Tamaulipan thornscrub ecosystem, which once covered much of South Texas.
Related: Leaked memo shows that EPA staffers were told to downplay the reliability of climate science
The wall could also divide breeding populations of vulnerable animals, such as the ocelot. With only 120 left in the Lone Star State, ocelots could suffer from decreased reproduction and eventually disappear completely from Texas. “Even small segments of new wall on federal lands will devastate habitats and local recreation and ecotourism,” said Keitt. The authors suggested alternatives if the United States does ultimately go forward in its efforts to strengthen the border. According to Keitt and Fowler, “Negative impacts could be lessened by limiting the extent of physical barriers and associated roads, designing barriers to permit animal passage and substituting less biologically harmful methods, such as electronic sensors, for physical barriers.”
Images via Alejandro Santillana/University of Texas at Austin Insects Unlocked Project and Andrew Morffew