Wednesday, January 30, 2019

R.I.P. LRGV?

Barring a miracle, construction of another segment of the U.S.-Mexico border wall will begin in the Lower Rio Grande River Valley (LRGV) in mid-February. Many people are under the mistaken notion that the President has not achieved his funding goal for the border barrier. While this is true, in part, funding for the segment running through Hidalgo and Starr Counties in Texas was approved in the omnibus bill passed in March, 2018. The habitat destruction this will cause is incalculable. It will also take place during the migratory bird breeding season. Wait, there is more.

The Rio Grande (Mexico in the middle) from the National Butterfly Center. If the wall goes up you will never have this view again.
© Heidi Eaton

To pave the way for the border wall in the legal sense, executive orders rescinded protections afforded by: The National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, The Archeological Resources Protection Act, The Solid Waste Disposal Act, The Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act, The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, and The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, among several other distinguished pieces of legislation (nearly thirty in total) that make this country truly great.

Band-winged Dragonlet at National Butterfly Center

Make no mistake, the construction of a border wall, or even a fence, would doom the economies and ecologies of the Lower Rio Grande Valley LRGV) in south Texas. Public and private lands alike would take the brunt of a closed border, effectively impoverishing every aspect of life in the region. I speak from having visited the area on three separate occasions. The map below shows what would be lost, effectively ceded to Mexico, south of that orange and yellow line. "What?!" you ask, "That is nowhere near the actual border!" Exactly. The true border is the Rio Grande River itself, but by law there can be no barrier constructed within the floodplain of the river. The wall will therefore be placed on existing levees on the U.S. side, far from the riverbank.

Map taken from "No Border Wall" post on Facebook

Among our favorite places in Texas is Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, a world-famous destination for tourists wishing to see birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and other watchable wildlife found nowhere else in the United States. The planned route for the border wall would exclude visitors from half of the current acreage, if the park even remained open to the public at all. This is what the average American does not seem to understand: The rights of American citizens will be denied as a result of this massive undertaking.

Black Setwing at National Butterfly Center

The National Butterfly Center, where new U.S. records for Mexican species are documented almost annually, will likewise be heavily compromised, and that is private property. Why Libertarians and others who hold private property in sacred esteem are not up in arms over this is beyond me. There was a lawsuit filed, but because all afforded protections were removed in the rescinded federal laws, the lawsuit was dismissed.

Were it not for persistent and vocal protests, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge would already be bisected by the wall. For now it has received a temporary stay of execution (of wall construction). The refuge is a gem, with a variety of habitats and mind-blowing biodiversity from "bugs" to birds.

Altamira Oriole, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, behind the right-of-way for the border wall

A border wall would have a devastating impact on wildlife, for even though birds could fly over the barrier, the habitat would be so fragmented by the structure and accompanying 150-foot "enforcement zone" that migrant wildlife would no longer have refuge in their travels; and resident wildlife would likewise be displaced. Meanwhile, have we learned nothing from the insidious networks of tunnels beneath our existing border barriers? Do we truly believe for an instant that "coyotes" will be deterred from their businesses of human trafficking and gun and drug running?

Opposition to a border wall can take many forms, and you are encouraged to pursue one or more of them:

  • Engage in in-person protests at various border locations.
  • Call, write, and e-mail your U.S. Representatives and Senators to express your outrage in polite but assertive language. Demand an immediate moratorium on further border barrier construction.
  • Bombard the White House with calls, e-mails, and letters.
  • Donate to the National Butterfly Center and other conservation organizations, and humanitarian non-profits that are fighting the border wall.
  • Continue visiting the border and infusing the local economies with your tourist dollars. Ask locals how best you can help them fight the wall. Tell locals who are in denial or who are misinformed that this is an urgent and critical situation that will adversely affect them.

Harlequin Flower Scarab, National Butterfly Center

Our current U.S. President is hell-bent on erecting a highly visible monument to his own fear of immigrants and refugees instead of enacting foreign and domestic policies that would defuse volatile relations with Mexico and Central America instead of igniting more fires. He insists on punishing law-abiding citizens in the U.S. instead of crafting more stringent laws against human trafficking, and expanding the currently overworked agencies charged with handling the deluge of legitimate refugees seeking asylum.

Foreign policy should address corrupt governments that lead to mass exodus, but we need the cooperation of our allies, the UN, and other international bodies that the President has turned his back on. We may even need more official ports of entry along the border so that the few currently in play are not overwhelmed, and adjacent lands between those posts can be patrolled more easily.

Bobcat at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, behind where the border wall would go

We have by no means exhausted all our options with regard to immigration reform, but we will be taking a step backward by building a wall. We are literally robbing ourselves of precious and unique landscapes and ecosystems. Yes, Mr. President, a wall would be something concrete, literally if not figuratively, but what you personally gain from visibility you will lose by several orders of magnitude in credibility, both at home and abroad.

3 comments:

  1. I totally disagree with your reasoning. I would much rather have a few less critters crossing the border than having drug runners and sex traffickers having free access to bring their product to our country. Sometimes we have to get our priorities straight. Don't get me wrong, I am a nature nut, but I don't blame President Trump for every problem in the world. I believe he has the interest of the citizens in his best interest. Finally a President who is sticking up for the United States for once.

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    1. I am never going to delete or block a comment expressing polite and reasonable dissent. I thank you for taking time to read and comment.

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  2. The powerless feeling I'm feeling right now saddens me to no end. Like I keep saying...I do not care WHO is running against him they will have my vote.

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