What a border wall along the US-Mexico border Rio Grande region, means for the biologically abundant, rarest and most amazing animals in North America

What a border wall along the US-Mexico border Rio Grande region, means for the biologically abundant, rarest and most amazing animals in North America

ElPaso,August22:During the campaign, it was easy to scoff at President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful” concrete wall along the US-Mexico border. It sounded, well, preposterous.

But now the prospect of a border wall is quite real. Trump has requested $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2018 to build three segments totaling 74 miles. The Department of Homeland Security is planning to construct four to eight border wall prototypes in San Diego this summer.

There’s a long debate over whether physical barriers on the border actually curb the illicit flow of people and drugs. The Border Patrol, which is backing Trump’s plan, says they’re a “vital tool.” Migration experts say they’re more symbolic than effective.

But what is undeniable is that the 654 miles of walls and fences already on the US-Mexico border have made a mess out of the environment there. They’ve cut off, isolated, and reduced populations of some of the rarest and most amazing animals in North America, like the jaguar and ocelot (also known as the dwarf jaguar). They’ve led to the creation of miles of roads through pristine wilderness areas. They’ve even exacerbated flooding, becoming dams when rivers have overflowed.

Now, DHS is eyeing unfenced areas in two Texas wildlife refuges that conservationists consider some of the most ecologically valuable areas on the border — home to armadillos and bobcats. If a wall were to slice through these ecosystems, it could cause irreversible damage to plants and animals already under serious threat.

Map of the existing US Mexico border wall

“We’ve been dealing with all these negative environmental impacts of fences on the border for more than a decade,” says Dan Millis of the Sierra Club Borderlands project. “And Trump’s proposal would make it worse.”

The border region is ecologically rich because a lot of it has been federally protected

The political boundary between the US and Mexico stretches 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, there are three mountain chains, the two largest deserts in North America, vast cattle ranches, a handful of cities and their sprawling suburbs, and the Southern section of the mighty Rio Grande river.

On the Mexican side, meanwhile, sit protected areas like El Pinacate y Gran Desierto Altar, which abuts the US Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and parts of the Organ Pipe National Monument and Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona.

Map of four widlife refuges and protected areas in Arizona and New Mexico that would be impacted by a border wall

These protected areas have been established, in part, to protect wildlife and plants that span both countries. In the case of the El Pinacate and Cabeza Prieta, desert species like the Sonoran pronghorn (an antelope relative) have been able to migrate back and forth. But in recent years, that’s gotten harder with the construction of long sections of vehicle barriers and fences, as you can see from the map.

“People think of deserts as barren lands and flat sand dunes with nothing there,” Sergio Avila, a conservation scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, says. “But deserts are very diverse and rich in life.”

Photo of saguaro cacti in bloom in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument park.
Saguaro cacti, or “giant cacti,” and ocotillo cactus (in bloom) in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument park in the Sonoran Desert.
 Arterra / UIG via Getty Images

The protected areas on the border harbor an incredible array of wildlife and plants

When you trace the border from west to east (as this Story Map project by Krista Schlyer did), you find shrinking pockets of remarkable biological abundance. At the far west is the Tijuana Estuary, a key salt marsh habitat for some 400 species of migrating birds. At the far east, birds and butterflies stop through the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which is also a permanent home for colorful mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

About 70 mammal species live in Snake Valley. At the top of the food chain are mountain lionsbobcatscoyotes, and foxes. Large ungulates include bighorn sheepelkmule deer, and pronghorn antelope. Some of the smaller mammals have interesting life traits, like porcupines, badgersweasels, and bats.

Flora of the valleys of the Rio Grande are cut off from their other regions by the wall.The vast uninhabited regions by humans are home to the ocelots,and jaguarines,armadillos and bobcats.

Will for the greater good the flimsy businessman of USA take the side of the vulnerable and parched inhabitants of Rio Grande?