Environment

Trump’s wall would hurt Texas wildlife, scientists warn

Trump's wall between Texas and Mexico poses a threat to plants and animals, including the black bear
Trump's wall between Texas and Mexico poses a threat to plants and animals, including the black bear
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Trump's wall between Texas and Mexico poses a threat to plants and animals, including the black bear
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Trump's wall between Texas and Mexico poses a threat to plants and animals, including the black bear

Research by scientists suggests Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico could do long-lasting damage to Texas wildlife. Norma Fowler and Tim Keitt of the University of Texas at Austin looked at what would happen if more of Texas' border with Mexico were to have barriers built along it. The scientists say additions could threaten endangered plants and animals as well as threaten ecotourism in Texas. Their concerns center on the damage to habitat caused by its construction and the roads needed either side.

At the moment there are only about 100 miles (160 km) of barrier along the 1,200 mile (1,900 km) border between Texas and Mexico – a low proportion for border states. With an equivalent to four or five lanes of highway, scientists think that each kilometer of wall would need between 12 and 20 hectares of land. That's 4.8 to 7.3 acres needed for each mile of barrier.

The research involved a review of 14 publications, including some that examine the effects of existing border walls and fences.

Loss of habitat

The scientists highlight Tamaulipan thornscrub ecosystems as a particular concern. "The living things that depend on it would lose access to some of the last remaining patches in Texas if the wall were built," says a University of Texas press release, paraphrasing Fowler.

In terms of specific plant life, the scientists draw attention to the endangered wildflower Zapata bladderpod, as its habitat coincides with the proposed barriers. The same goes for the threatened whiskerbush cactus. The barrier could also create problems for plants that rely on pollination by animals which would no longer be able to cross the divide.

The wall poses a threat to animal life too, the scientists say. They fear a barrier could do further damage to the already endangered ocelot, of which it's thought only 120 remain in Texas. The species has already been badly hit by habitat loss. The scientists also worry that the wall could also drive a wedge between ocelot and black bear populations. This could potentially mean populations in either Texas or Mexico are too small to survive, including the black bear population in Big Bend National Park.

The scientists point out that this fragmentation of species could also be a threat in Arizona. There, the threatened ferruginous pygmy-owl, desert bighorn sheep, jaguar, Sonoran pronghorn, and javelinas could be affected.

The scientists also flag that the wall's construction would be exempt from environmental review. They urge that reviews be carried out for each stretch of barrier.

Ecotourism

The wall could pose a threat to Texas growing ecotourism industry, too, the scientists say. They think it's likely that the wall would be set back from the Rio Grande floodplain, which could cut off several existing wildlife refuges popular with ecotourists. This could also hurt riparian forest species needing access to the river.

According to a 2011 study, ecotourism generated more than US$344 million in the lower Rio Grande Valley alone. Much of this comes from birdwatchers who go to see species like the green jay and the Altamira oriole.

"If ecotourism declines significantly because access to preserves has been impeded, there may be negative economic impacts on the region," the scientists write in a letter published in the peer-reviewed Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment. "On the other hand, if the barriers are not far enough from the river, they may trap wildlife escaping from floods, and may even act as levees, which tend to increase downstream flooding."

Measures

The scientists suggest that negative effects could be mitigated by using electronic sensors instead of physical barriers. Or, if barriers must be built, they suggest designing them to allow animals to pass through.

The research project is explained in the video below.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin

Proposed Border Wall Will Harm Texas Plants and Animals, Scientists Say

7 comments
CoachFerg
Frankly, the damage done by the people who cross the border is much worse. Trash in the form of plastics and human waste litter the desert where illegals cross. Besides, nature has a way of dealing with human impediments. This is simply another distraction in the effort to regulate our sovereign borders.
piperTom
"Research by scientists suggests ..." Usually, when an article begins this way, it's just speculation or wishful thinking. But on THIS topic, a suggestion may be all that is needed. I can easily see the environmental impact studies and the near certain law suits taking much more than the three odd years before there is a change of leadership.
Lineslinger
CoachFerg is spot on. Reality and accountability have to come into play at some point.
SteveO
These are some of the worst arguments I've heard on this topic. Nothing more than delay tactics in hopes to avoid having the wall built. In many cases/areas, I do think we could do things other than a physical wall though.
SammyC
@CoachFerg yep, that's pretty much it. Not going to lie, if a spotted desert turtle is forced to find a different mating spot in exchange for sovereign borders and some efforts towards national security, I'm OK with it.
MichaelGray
I live in Texas and can tell you that this article is full of holes. Let's see if this is watered down enough: The ocelot is not endangered and its habitat ranges from South America to Texas. There is plenty of land on each side of the border for the aforementioned ecosystem to survive. Narcoterrorism is rampant along the border and has caused the biggest hit to border-tourism. Look up what has happened to Matamoros - a favorite spot during my college days that is now too dangerous to visit. CoachFerg is also spot on and SammyC nailed it.
Trylon
Fish ladders are only moderate successful at best at allowing fish to return to their spawning grounds. Likewise, habitat loss due to human settlement has pushed numerous land species to threatened, vulnerable or even endangered status. Anyone who thinks "nature has a way of dealing with human impediments" is grossly ignorant.
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