The Sky Island region is bisected by the international U.S.-Mexico border. Within these borderlands are numerous federally protected areas including National Wildlife Refuges, Wilderness Areas, National Monuments, National Memorials and Riparian National Conservation Areas in the United States, as well as Biosphere Reserves, National Parks and Voluntary Land Conservation properties in Mexico. The number and extension of these protected lands testify to the region’s biodiversity and its importance and value to both countries.
In the United States, Section 102 of the 2005 Real ID Act has been used to waive environmental laws established for the protection and long term conservation of natural resources and monitoring of human activities in protected areas. With no Environmental Impact Statement process, border wall construction and related projects have proceeded with little or no public scrutiny, and limited or no input from public land managers and agencies.
Ocelots and jaguars, migratory birds and bats, black bears, white-nose coati and many other species are dependent on the ability to move back and forth across the borderlands. Many of our protected and valued areas on the border – the San Pedro River, San Bernardino Valley, the Patagonia mountains, the Tumcacaori Highlands and Coronado National Memorial to name a few – are critical pathways for wildlife.
Construction of a border wall and related infrastructure is creating an impermeable boundary for continental species migration. Clearing of vegetation, installation of high-powered lighting and land-filling of canyons and watercourses are affecting wildlife populations in the short and long term. Impacts from this construction reach far beyond the footprint of the physical wall, impeding the ability of plants and animals to move normally in the region. Habitat fragmentation and destruction are the most serious threats to wildlife populations and their habitats in the border region of Arizona-Sonora.
Border infrastructure blocks corridors for jaguars and all wildlife moving from source populations in northern Mexico, further preventing establishment of viable populations in southwestern United States. Case studies on Ferruginous pygmy-owls and desert bighorn sheep have already demonstrated severe effects of the border wall on species movement, and suggest many species will be significantly impacted by this infrastructure. Large, terrestrial species are physically excluded by security infrastructure or deterred by removed vegetation. Additionally, construction of the border wall is blocking streams and altering natural water flows, leading to potentially catastrophic impacts on the long-term survival of species in the region, as well as human communities.
We believe that border security should equally value the very homeland we are trying to protect: the clean drinkable water, clean air and abundant wildlife that provide the quality of life we enjoy in our borderland communities. The environmental consequences of border security policies should be considered a national security issue, too.
In 2011, Sky Island Alliance commissioned a nationwide survey that found that 64% of the American public oppose or strongly oppose waiving laws along the border for the purpose of building infrastructure. Click here to read SIA’s news release.
The current immigration reform debate includes unnecessary anti-environmental provisions that eliminate the rule of law and continue the reckless damage inflicted on our fragile borderlands. The 37 federal protection laws that have been waived constitute the largest waiver of law in U.S. history. The waiver of our federal protection laws has already led to tremendous damage, and jeopardizes the very identity of the region as one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America. Due to these waivers, we are seeing numerous concerning impacts:
- Dangerous flooding in a time when water supplies are increasingly precious.
- Widespread soil erosion caused by construction of new roads and barriers.
- The spread of invasive species like bufflegrass that increase the risk and intensity of fire.
- Increased roadkill and animal deaths from night-lighting and vehicle traffic.
- Increased pollution and toxins in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
- The creation of new roads and increased activity in wild and remote areas that disturb wildlife, damage habitat and increase access for poaching.
- Broken wildlife linkages, preventing animal movement essential to finding food, water and mates.
We support efforts to reform our immigration system in a way that is fair and just, and that respects the rule of law, as well as our borderland communities and our shared environment. We are discovering more about the environmental benefits of the borderlands and its wildlife, and continue to educate people about these benefits. We are mapping the construction and impacts of new border infrastructure. On both sides of the border, we are discovering new species, restoring watersheds, and collaborating with landowners and agencies to protect important habitat.