Environmental impacts of the Border Wall

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Illustration by Patrik Mollwing
Sources by Vox - National Geographic

People who live and work along the southern border of the U.S. will tell you that the farther away the political debate occurs from the border, the more detached it becomes from the reality of life in the borderlands. The reason to build a wall is to keep people out. Yet history is replete with examples of walls all over the globe that rarely deterred determined people from getting in.

What follows here instead is a look at the implications of wall construction itself—beyond talk over concrete-or-slats—and the unintended consequences that erecting such a barrier could pose. Here’s a look at some of these potential impacts.

1. Threatening diverse landscapes
The border stretches for 1,954 miles from the Gulf of Mexico in Texas to the Pacific Ocean in California over one of the nation’s most diverse landscapes. It includes six separate eco-regions, ranging from desert scrub to forest woodlands to wetland marshes, both freshwater and salt.

Construction of a border wall will bisect the geographic range of 1,506 native animals and plants, including 62 species that are listed as critically endangered.

2. Exacerbating flooding
Flooding disasters occurred in Arizona after 700 miles of fencing was constructed in the past. The barriers acted as dams during rainy season flash floods.

3. Perils to wildlife and plants
The border wall could disconnect a third of 346 native wildlife species from 50 percent or more of their range that lies south of the border, the Bioscience paper concluded. That raises the risk to their survival by shrinking and isolating animal populations and limiting their ability to roam for food, water, and mates. Fencing also traps wildlife from escaping fires, floods, or heat waves.
Border fencing disrupts seasonal migration, affecting access to water and birthing sites for Peninsular bighorn sheep that roam between California and Mexico.

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

4. Dividing a river
The meandering Rio Grande, the official border between the United States and Mexico, was long believed to be a geologic obstacle to construction of a border fence. The river channel shifts course from time to time and floods in the spring. To build a wall north of the river would, in effect, cede control of those lands to Mexico and isolate property and homes owned by U.S. citizens on the Mexican side of the wall.

5. Disrupting wildlife refuges and parks
Proposals under consideration would locate the wall through seven Texas wildlife conservation areas, including the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Big Bend National Park, prized among national parks as a place so remote it is considered to be one of the best place in the Lower 48 to view the night sky.

There are tropical animal species in some of these canyons that are not found anywhere else.
— Jesse Lasky, Penn State biologist

6. Exemption from environmental oversight laws
Construction of the border wall does not have to meet the requirements of more than 30 of the most sweeping and effective federal environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. That’s due to the REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It authorizes Homeland Security to waive any laws in the name of national security.