The Border Wall poses major threats to the ecology of the U.S. Southwest

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TWH – The continuing construction of the Border Wall system in the southwestern United States has impacted the local ecology. In addition to the direct impacts on the land and water, many legal protections to the environment have been waived or removed.

The Sierra Club published a complete list of some 48 laws protecting the environment that have been waived by the Trump administration. According to Slate, the Real I.D. Act of 2005 to accomplish these waivers.

The Real I.D. Act allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive any legal requirements that they believe delays the building of the Wall.

One of those waived laws requires a competitive process to obtain a federal contract. While other waived laws require reviews of impacts on the environment and Native American sites.

In the arid US southwest, everything revolves around water.

Arizona Public Media reported that on August 14, 20 to 30 people gathered along the banks of the San Pedro River to protest the Border Wall’s impact on local ecology. In all of Arizona, only that river still runs free. The ecosystem of the San Pedro Rivers supports over 100 bird species. In the past, many of those bird species were under federal protection, but that protection ended when the Real I.D. Act waivers were put.

In addition to the threat posed to bird populations and other wildlife, residents fear increased risk of flooding as a result of the wall. Plans for the Border Wall in this area include a gate across the river, and during the rainy season, the San Pedro River becomes filled with debris. If debris gets caught behind that gate, it could and very likely would create a mini dam. One counter-protester attended. He thought the wall could prevent cross border violence.

Threats to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

In the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument located in Arizona, the border wall threatens a wildlife refuge and indigenous graves. Laiken Jordahl, a local activist, and borderlands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity has publicized these threats on twitter and the media.

TWH reached out to Jordahl, and while he had not responded to requests for comment by press time, he has continued to monitor activities at the border and the damage that is being caused.

Back in February TWH reported on some of the damage being done. Jordahl in an interview earlier this year with, “They are blowing up a mountain in a national monument on sacred indigenous lands to build the wall. This complete disregard for sacred sites, for indigenous sovereignty is despicable. Even for the Trump administration, even for Border Patrol, this is a new low.”

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol confirmed that controlled blasting was occurring. They said they were monitoring the blasts to protect the region.

Jordahl continued, “None of this would be legal if normal environmental laws were in place like the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, or the Endangered Species Act, or the National Environmental Policies Act. Every relevant law has been waived in order to rush construction.”

National Geographic reported low levels of water at the Quitobaquito Springs, which are located within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Those springs are the only habitat for two endangered species: the Sonoyta pupfish and the Sonoran mud turtle. The indigenous people, the Hia-Ced O’odham view those springs as sacred.

Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Image credit: NPS – National Park Service – Public Domain 

These springs have been slowly losing water since the 1980s. Since wall construction began, that decline has become worse. Construction workers use water to make the concrete base for the Border Wall.

Since March 2020, the water levels of the springs have dropped greatly. The springs used to flow at 30 gallons per minute. In March 2020, it was only flowing at 10 gallons per minute. On July 15, it set a record, 6 gallons per minute.

A Custom and Border Patrol spokesman said that fluctuations are normal. They said that they are monitoring water levels. The Border Patrol has pledged not to draw water from within five miles of these springs.

Threats to the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge

The Phoenix New Times reported last week on a Freedom of Information Act request, which involved communications between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge. The exchanges between the two showed many ignored warnings by the federal officials about the impacts and potential dangers of the Border Wall.

In the article, Phoenix New Times reports about the contents of emails to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Bill Radke, manager of the refuge, had sent those emails. He had concerns about groundwater removal. He said that the DHS was aware of its danger to wells and wetlands.

Another email involved a Fish and Wildlife request to lessen water usage. Radke said that the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers had failed to do so. Radke alleged that an Army Corps staffer had told him that they planned to use 700,000 gallons of water per day for the duration. By Radke’s estimation, he said, “If you do the math, every well in the valley will suffer.”

To put it in perspective, nearby Tucson averages 12 inches of precipitation per year, and the entire U.S. averages 38 inches per year.

According to Phoenix New Times, the refuge provides a habitat for several endangered species such as the Yaqui River fish. Declining water levels may change that. By December 2019, the Refuge had to begin salvage operations, with at least three wells going dry.

The Refuge is now planning to save only a subset of its fish inhabitants. The staff is monitoring the water weekly to determine long-term damage. It was also reported that Defenders of Wildlife found a U.S. Fish and Wildlife report that confirmed Radke’s emails.

Threats to Wildlife Migration Corridors

National Geographic reported that the wall threatens wildlife corridors in the U.S. southwest. Jaguars, sheep, and other animals roam through valleys, and hills regardless of borders. The wall will consist of 30-foot series of vertical slats. Only a four-inch gap separates one vertical slat from another, which will prevent even medium-size animals from roaming across the border.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated about 1,200 square miles in Arizona and New Mexico as critical for jaguars. Blocking jaguar migration corridors threatens the reintroduction of the jaguar to the US.

National Geographic quoted Howard Quigley, a researcher with Panthera, an organization dedicated to studying and saving big cats. Quigley said Building the wall in these migration corridors “can only do bad things for jaguars. It’s not good for any type of wildlife. Any time you cause fragmentation of contiguous populations, you essentially start them on a slippery slope toward local extinction … a death by a thousand cuts.”