The Border in the Balance

Endangered species advocate Michael Finkelstein thinks a border fence could cause more environmental problems than it solves. By Charles Bethea

Most proponents of the plan to erect a fence along 700 miles of the United States’s 2,500-mile border with Mexico believe the fence would protect the nation by making the most populated border regions virtually impenetrable to illegal immigrants. But opponents of the plan say the barricade would suppress biodiversity and harm endangered species in sensitive areas such as California’s Tijuana Estuary and Arizona’s Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge—not to mention block public access to some of the most beautiful spots in America.

Plenty recently spoke with Michael Finkelstein, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, about the current impact of immigrants and the border patrol on our fragile borderlands—and the problems that could result from the fence and patrol roads that could be built on the border in the near future.

Plenty: What are the chief environmental problems that double-fencing along the Mexico-US border could cause?

Finkelstein: Double-fencing will prevent wildlife migrations, divide habitat, and split populations. The construction and maintenance activities associated with fence and road developments can cause accelerated erosion, habitat fragmentation, and the spread and infestations of non-native species. In fragile ecosystems, the loss of topsoils or increased sedimentation in wetland areas can drastically alter the vegetation and wildlife communities.

Plenty: What endangered species are particularly in jeopardy?

Finkelstein: The border wall would impede the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, and Sonoran pronghorn, among others, from cross-border recovery.

Plenty: What are the biggest threats right now to the wildlife refuges along the US-Mexico border?

Finkelstein: These places are in danger because of both illegal immigration and border patrol activities. For example, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument currently has a vehicle barrier in place to prevent illegal motorized incursions associated with human and drug smuggling operations, and this vehicle barrier was constructed to be wildlife friendly. However, the US Border Patrol drives off-road, damaging desert soils and trampling plants and wildlife habitat. It's a no-win situation if we only address immigration at the border. Immigration policy must be addressed in Washington, D.C., to develop fair and humane border policies that prevent the loss of human life and the destruction of our deserts.

Plenty: Is human migration along the border getting more difficult to detect?

Finkelstein: The smuggling corridors—for both human and drug traffic—are moving into more remote places where enforcement is more difficult. This means that the stakes are higher—immigrants are more likely to get hurt or die on the longer walks and areas that have previously been free of human activity are now being subjected to trash, camp fires, and new trails. Immigration decreases in one place mean increases in another.

Plenty: Has border migration affected the feasibility of environmental fieldwork in some of these areas?

Finkelstein: Yes. Another aspect of the environmental problems along the border is that the scientists and land managers working on these public lands are prevented from doing their jobs due to high levels of danger. Biologists are prevented from going into the field alone to work because of potential armed confrontations. Their inability to do their jobs means that we really have no idea the extent of the impacts on the resources they would otherwise be monitoring.

Plenty: Could a fence actually prevent some types of environmental damage, such as habitat destruction and waste build-up, which has resulted from human migration?

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Here's a real interesting look at how building a fence on the border would affect the environment in that area-- halting wildlife migration, causing problems with fieldwork access, and loss of topsoils and vegetation. [Read More]


"accelerated erosion, habitat fragmentation, and the spread and infestations of non-native species."

This is exactly what is happening to US as HUMANS with out that fence! We should really fence the entire border. This is the lamest excuse ever for not fencing in this portion of border. What a libral and slanted take on this issue. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Nature, but this is rediculus. I will stop reading Plenty now.

I would take it you're indian cause they're the only ones that have claim over the land you claim your own.

Ok this is evil but I'll say it anyway.

Why don't we just let them all in. Draft them into the army and invade Mexico? Then Fix their economy and take all that oil they have stashed away.

I have never seen a Mexican doing a job that an "American" would do... so I dont know where this idea of losing jobs to immigrants came from? I dont see a lot of "Americans" lining up to pick oranges...

If you have never seen Americans losing jobs in the construction industry to Mexicans, then you don't get around much... but as long as you are okay, then that's all that matters, eh? FYI, Americans in construction are producing 30% of the gross domestic product and farmers CANNOT FIND laborers to pick fruit, they don't want those jobs, they want ours. Why don't you get real and stop lying all the time, just to have something to say? You boys have become as dumb as clucks in this country and that's a fact. Just don't have any babies and maybe we'll all be better off.

What racist ass idiots. Try starting from scratch and making a living in Mexico. You would not make it very far. Why can't Mexicans come to the US for a better life? You were all immigrants at one point too and no one asked you for papers when you came to North America. Just because you were fortunate to be born in a richer country with rich parents doesn't make you any better than anyone else. Some people's privileges need to be taken away or they will never understand. Keep being closed minded because it won't get you anywhere and you don't deserve it either, but hopefully your parents' money will get you by.

Wow, I am a US citizen and I am ashamed of my people.

First off the problem is illegal aliens not immigrants. This country cannot take in the whole world that is so stupid, do you really think we would hasten our own demise. The racist thing is so old and a very lame excuse at best.Mexico I am sorry to say is not our responsibility. I wasn't born here but my parents earned the right to come here through the front door. There are 18,000 illegal alien crimminals in California jails right now, and growing. Get an education on the subject. Look up the NAU, the SPP, and NAFTA see where we are headed.

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