Scientists from the United States, Mexico and more than 40 other countries are taking a stand against the Trump administration’s plans for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it could have devastating consequences for a host of animal and plant species.
More than 2,700 scientists from 43 nations — including more than 600 from Mexico and 1,400 from the United States — have added their signatures to an article titled “Nature Divided, Scientists United: US-Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biological Diversity and Binational Conservation.”
Oregon State University researchers William Ripple and Christopher Wolf, both part of the Global Trophic Cascades Program of the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, are among the paper’s 18 co-authors. Robert Peters of Defenders of Wildlife is the lead author, and his collaborators include such distinguished scientists as Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University and Harvard’s Edward O. Wilson.
The article is being published today in BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. It outlines three major ways in which President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall — and existing barriers erected under previous administrations — could raise the risk of serious harm to sensitive species and damage international conservation efforts in the borderlands:
• The wall bypasses environmental laws: A 2005 measure called the Real ID Act allows the Department of Homeland Security to waive laws that could slow border wall construction, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. That means DHS is not required to study the potential environmental impacts of wall construction, take public input or mitigate damage to habitat.
• The wall eliminates, degrades and fragments habitat: The researchers estimate that the 1,954-mile border bisects the geographic ranges of more than 1,500 animals and plants, including 63 species considered vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That could be especially problematic for endangered animals such as the Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn or creatures such as the jaguar and ocelot that have small residual populations in the United States.
• The wall devalues conservation investment and scientific research: Millions of acres of habitat have been set aside by the U.S. and Mexican governments to protect sensitive species, including wildlife corridors created specifically to facilitate cross-border migration of animals. The wall undermines those objectives while diverting money from conservation to fund the construction of additional barriers. Scientists from both nations have reported being intimidated, harassed or delayed by border security officers.
The authors recommend a number of steps to address their concerns, from requiring DHS to follow existing environmental laws and work with conservation agencies on both sides of the border to facilitating research and mitigating environmental damage from wall construction.
Ripple, for one, believes it ought to be possible to secure the border without stopping the natural flow of animals back and forth.
“There might be certain types of technology that could help us with security without impeding wildlife movement — simple cameras at the border, or drones equipped with cameras,” he suggested.
When it comes to walls or fences, however, it’s difficult to make accommodations for free-roaming animal life.
“Not all border walls are impermeable to all species,” Ripple said, “but to large animals, even fences that are designed to keep out humans would keep most of those animals out as well.”
Ripple, who has done a lot of research on the complex interrelationships between multiple species within ecosystems — known as trophic cascades — has written a series of articles in scientific journals in recent years warning of severe threats to many of the world’s large mammals from habitat loss, overhunting and other pressures.
Late last year he attracted international attention as the lead author of “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” which marked the 25th anniversary of the original 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” with an updated look at the dire environmental challenges facing the planet. An online version of the article has now been co-signed by more than 20,000 scientists from 184 countries and has become one of the most-cited scientific papers in the world.
Ripple is crossing his fingers that his latest salvo will do something to soften the environmental impact of large-scale barrier construction on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I hope our national leaders will listen to our conservation message,” he said, “but time will tell.”