Wall Through This South Texas Wildlife Refuge Would Be an Environmental Tragedy

Just northwest of Texas' southernmost pointy boot tip, nestled tight against against the winding Rio Grande, lies one of our nation's secret treasures. The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge isn't a secret to tens of thousands of wildlife experts and birding enthusiasts who visit every year, but to its first-time guests, it's surely a captivating surprise. Small by federal refuge standards, the 2,088 preserve is a tiny ecological jewel box, a noplace-else-on-Earth crossroads for hundreds of migratory bird varieties and 450 plant species. It's home to an array of terrestrial animals including two rare species of reclusive wildcat, the jaguarundi and all-but-extinct ocelot. According to one former refuge manager, "It's a picture of what wildlife used to be like in the Rio Grande Valley." The 75-year-old refuge now faces the threat of irretrievable damage. With a conspicuous absence of public announcement, federal engineers have begun drilling and taking soil samples preparatory to construction of the first phase of President Donald Trump's border wall. Why the Santa Ana refuge? Not because it's practical, but because it's vulnerable. Unlike the three other border states, Texas' boundary with Mexico is largely held in private hands. Prior administrations' efforts to fence off portions of the border have resulted in lengthy delays costly lawsuits. So publicly held land is a soft target, and Santa Ana is Ground Zero. Under post-9/11 rules, the Department of Homeland Security can issue waivers exempting projects it deems security measures from dozens of federal environmental laws. In this case, it's an express ticket to construction available at only a few sites along the Texas-Mexico border. The damage a wall would do to the refuge is incalculable. The proposed route, three miles of levee flanking the Rio Grande, would gouge a broad corridor through the wildlife habitat. Centuries-old bird migratory patterns would be disrupted. Some animals would be cut off from the river, their only water source. Others, unable to seek higher ground during peak flooding, would drown.   Continue reading...

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