Construction crews began "controlled blasting" of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona last week, CBS News reported Friday. And Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who represents the area, says they did so without consulting the Tohono O'odham Nation which considers parts of it sacred.
"This administration is basically trampling on the tribe's history — and to put it poignantly, it's ancestry," Grijalva told CBS News.
Specifically, contractors began blasting in an area called Monument Hill, which includes important Native American burial sites, The Washington Post explained.
"Where they were blasting the other day on Monument Hill is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O'odham. And then the O'odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill," Grijalva said in a video posted on social media Sunday.
I just got back from the border. This week, Trump blew up a sacred Native American hill on public land to build h… https://t.co/t0K0CmsekI— Raul M. Grijalva (@Raul M. Grijalva)1581265349.0
The Nation wants all construction to stop on Monument Hill and for two-mile buffer zones to be set up around certain sites, including Quitobaquito Springs, an archaeological site and the only natural water source for miles, according to USA Today.
"They're our ancestors. They're our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it's our obligation, it's our duty to do what is necessary to protect that," Tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr told the Arizona Republic, as BBC News reported.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed that work was being done on the site.
"The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain," A CBP spokesperson said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month."
CBP further told USA Today that it would "continue to have an environmental monitor present" during its activities, but Native American groups and environmental advocates are worried about what the wall could do to both sacred sites and the monument's unique ecosystem.
Organ Pipe was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by the UN in 1976, which called it "a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem," according to BBC News. Environmentalists are worried construction could harm an underground aquifer, as well as migrating wildlife.
Laiken Jordahl of the Center for Biological Diversity told The Washington Post that construction had "butchered" Monument Hill.
"It's completely different from what it's been before — there's a swath of land gone from right in the middle," he said.
Jordahl said construction was also destroying 200-year-old saguaro cacti.
"They are also sacred to the O'odham," he explained to The Washington Post. "They see them as the embodiment of their ancestors. So to see them turned into mulch — it's deeply upsetting."
This is the top of "Monument Hill," a sacred site to multiple tribes, that @DHSgov is dynamiting right now to build… https://t.co/QlSLdl0Jr9— Russ McSpadden (@Russ McSpadden)1581271395.0
Grijalva sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in January asking it to consult with the Tohono O'odham Nation about construction, but did not hear back.
The Trump administration is able to blast through sacred sites and threaten endangered wildlife on federal land because of the 2005 REAL ID Act, which permits the government to waive laws that interfere with national security, BBC News explained.
Grijalva said he would convene a hearing in the coming weeks to begin the process of repealing the act.
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A plan to construct the 30-foot tall border wall along the edge of the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Arizona threatens the likelihood that the rare Rio Yaqui fish will continue to survive. The protected desert springs and streams provide the only habitat for the fish, as The Guardian reported.
In addition to the Rio Yaqui fish, three other fish rely on the groundwater there that is rapidly depleting as construction marches forward on a 20-mile stretch of wall. The Yaqui topminnow; chub; beautiful shiner; and Yaqui catfish are all directly threatened by the loss of groundwater. The federally protected Chiricahua leopard frogs, Huachuca water umbel, Mexican garter snakes and Aplomado falcon are also threatened, as Newsweek reported.
Lowland leopard frog tadpoles take a year or more to reach adulthood. This frog species is of special concern and is protected under Arizona State law. San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge
"There's good reason to believe that the Yaqui fish's only U.S. habitat is drying up as a result of tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater being pumped to build the border wall," said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity who recently visited the area, as the The Guardian reported.
The endangered species there were already under threat from a prolonged drought and extensive heat waves fueled by the climate crisis. Furthermore, water-intensive crops like alfalfa and pecans are straining aquifers in the region, according to The Guardian.
To construct the border wall, the Trump administration claimed a national emergency, which allowed it to divert Department of Defense funds earmarked for national security and counter-drug programs towards construction of a wall. To accelerate construction, the federal government waived 28 laws designed to protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife, as the Center for Biological Diversity noted in a press release.
The Trump administration waived some of the bedrock environmental protections, including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Fish and Wildlife Act and Migratory Bird Conservation Act. All of these acts require extensive scientific, environmental and costs analysis before a proposed project can move forward, according to The Guardian.
"With his wall obsession, President Trump has created an environmental crisis at the border," said Democratic Arizona congressman Raúl Grijalva, according to The Guardian. "Through environmental waivers and stolen funds, he's building a wall that will deplete precious water resources, desecrate sacred sites and destroy the environmental treasures and biodiversity that make the borderlands unique."
Trump has ordered 500 miles of border wall constructed by the end of 2020, which will not allow time for environmental reviews. So far, only about 90 miles have been built, which mostly replaced old fencing, according to the AP.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that every mile of wall costs $14 million. The roughly 100 miles that are slated to be built on the Arizona-Mexico border will require 50 million gallons of water just to build the footers for the steel slats which will tower over the border itself. More water will be needed for dust control during the 14 months of construction, according a recent essay by Gary Nabhan, an agricultural ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson investigating food and water security on the borderlands, in Earth Island Journal.
Drilling new wells to construct the wall will create some of the lasting threats that already-stressed fauna will suffer over the next century, according to Nabhan's essay.
"It's painful to see how much flora and fauna has already been destroyed in our beautiful desert," said Regina Romero, the newly elected mayor of Tucson, as The Guardian reported. "Throwing billions of dollars into building a wall will not make our borders more secure, but will cause destructive flooding and irreparable damage to migration patterns for many wildlife species only found in the Sonoran desert."
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
There is an outcry in Arizona after footage captured border wall construction bulldozers plowing over iconic cacti that are protected in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — a monument created to protect Organ Pipe and Saguaro cacti, as Newsweek reported.
The video depicts the bulldozers running roughshod over the national monument and clearing saguaros in a rush to build a costly and unnecessary wall on the U.S. southern border.
VIDEO: Saguaros are being bulldozed for the #BorderWall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Trump's reckless bo… https://t.co/n8NkLSGfUj— Laiken Jordahl (@Laiken Jordahl)1570218026.0
"Saguaros are being bulldozed for the #BorderWall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument," wrote Laiken Jordahl, Border Lands Campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, on Twitter with a video of the destruction. "Trump's reckless border hysteria is destroying our environment and killing the very species this national monument was designated to protect."
Kevin Dahl who works at the National Parks Conservation Association shot the video. He told Newsweek that he was heartbroken and outraged by what he witnessed.
"At that point, what they were doing was destruction, not construction," he said.
The actions Dahl witnessed stand in sharp contrast to a video posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that shows an appropriate relocation process, where a cactus is carefully removed with designated extraction tools, as opposed to a bulldozer plowing it over, according to Newsweek.
"We're watching the destruction of Arizona's most iconic species to make way for a useless border wall that most Arizonans oppose," Jordahl wrote to EcoWatch.
Dahl watched the crews level saguaros and several other desert plants and then pile them up into slash piles. The destruction he witnessed was on the west side of the park where a 78-mile strip of Trump's wall is slated to stand.
However, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which runs up against the border with Mexico already has a significant amount of fencing. As the Earther blog at Gizmodo reported, that includes five miles of fence to keep pedestrians out and another 25 miles of posts that act as vehicle barriers. Earther classified the actions as "wanton destruction."
"The Department of Homeland Security says they're relocating cacti, but the videos we shot at the construction site tell a very different story: one of flattened earth and total devastation," Jordahl wrote to EcoWatch. "Even if they do relocate some specimens, any remediation will pale in comparison to the severe and lasting damage done by the wall, stadium lights and enforcement zone."
While the current fencing respects the wildlife and the migratory patterns of native desert animals, Trump's border wall does not.
"So the wall that's currently under construction is 30 feet tall it's made up of a 6 foot wide steel bollards and they're drilling 10 feet into the ground in order to set the foundation for this wall and…will stretch for almost 50 miles," Jordahl said, as NBC Tucson reported. "So that means any migrating wildlife will be completely unable to make it around this barrier."
The National Park Service and Customs and Border Patrol offered a statement to Newsweek that ran counter to what Jordahl said, stating that they have ensured there will be "locations for small wildlife passages within the new border barrier that would allow for the continued passage of small mammals."
However, that seems like a dubious claim to environmentalists who have seen the Trump administration trounce over environmental regulations and manipulate environmental impact statements.
Running roughshod over the fauna in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument presents another set of problems since the site is both a U.S. National Monument and a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The park is also sacred land to Indigenous groups like the Tohono O'odham Nation, as Dahl told Newsweek.
"The Tohomo O'odham [Nation], in their taxonomy of life saguaros are very close to humans," Dahl told Earther. "And you know, they have a majestic presence, they are the iconic symbol of this part of the world. You know you're someplace different when you're in a saguaro forest."
Jordahl summed it up succinctly on Twitter.
"Trump's #BorderWall is under construction through the most pristine Sonoran Desert ecosystem anywhere on the planet — Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument," he wrote. "Endangered species, Indigenous sacred sites & wilderness lands are being destroyed before our eyes."
Trump’s #BorderWall is under construction through the most pristine Sonoran Desert ecosystem anywhere on the planet… https://t.co/VS9lld2B7g— Laiken Jordahl (@Laiken Jordahl)1569606812.0
- Trump's Wall Threatens 93 Endangered Species - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Administration Delays Construction of Border Wall in Arizona ... ›
- Bulldozers to Tear Through Heart of Sonoran Desert for Trump's ... ›
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.
The win came shortly after the Center for Biological Diversity asked a federal judge to stop construction in 68 miles of the Arizona border via a filed injunction saying the government unlawfully ignored dozens of laws in place to protect wildlife habitat. The delay is set to last until October, leaving many environmentalists concerned this is only a temporary win. On Thursday EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity Borderlands Campaigner Laiken Jordahl via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out what we should expect to happen in the coming weeks and to gain clarity on the energy on the ground of our borderlands.
Watch the interview:
"This is an important win, but it's so temporary and it's important to stress that," said Jordahl. "Bulldozers are already arriving on site in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the San Pedro River in Arizona."
To find out more about this specific monument and surrounding area, watch this video which is part of the Center for Biological Diversity series Border Views:
A temporary win means there is still a plan for bulldozers to tear through wildlife refuges in October. The department of homeland security will replace waist-high vehicle barriers currently in place with a "30 foot impenetrable wall, complete with night lighting and cameras on top," said Jordahl. "It will have a profound impact on wildlife connectivity in ways that these vehicle barriers do not."
Jordahl reiterated the importance of understanding the conservation aspects of vehicle barriers and how the border walls replacing them will have irreparable harm on wildlife — not only 93 endangered species at risk from the wall, but "virtually every single terrestrial animal [that will not be] able to cut across this impermeable barrier."
"We are proposing quite literally to ram a border wall through the heart of the best Sonoran Desert habitat anywhere in the world," said Jordahl.
What can we do about it?
The Center for Biological Diversity recommends a "huge outpouring of support and advocacy," and that EcoWatchers reach out to Congress stating that we want "legislative protection for these nature areas."
According to Jordahl Republicans want to approve $5 billion more for border walls which would wall off the rest of the U.S. Mexico border. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, please call Congress.
Border wall construction is already happening and underway in Organ Pipe. Currently the Center for Biological Diversity has a pending lawsuit, awaiting a decision by Sept. 4. If they lose and Trump is allowed to waive any and all environmental protections to rush wall construction, they expect ground to be broken in almost 60 miles: through the entirety of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and across San Pedro River which is the last free flowing river in the American Southwest.
Jordahl says the most important things anyone can do are to raise awareness, to share videos like this interview and to help the Center Biological Diversity to reframe the argument and discussion around the border.
"If politicians in DC and most of the American public knew the reality of the land here, the beauty of the land and how fragile these ecosystems are, there's no way we'd be talking about ramming a medieval wall through some of these expansive and beautiful nature areas," said Jordahl.
Another thing EcoWatchers can do, if able, is take a trip to the border to see the borderlands for themselves. Some places Jordahl recommends visiting are Organ Pipe in Arizona and Big Bend in Texas. Jordahl's view of the borderlands is one with flourishing national treasures, diverse wildlife habitat where black bears and jaguars dwell in the same place, rugged spectacular landscapes and seven different units of the national parks service.
The Trump administration is delaying construction on its long-promised border wall that would cut through protected stretches of the Arizona desert.
The Department of Homeland Security was scheduled to replace waist-high barriers with taller fencing in a wildlife refuge, national monument and conservation area later this month. However, government attorneys filed a brief this week that construction will be delayed until October.
Authorities plan on using funds earmarked for the Department of Defense that have been slotted for national emergencies, as the AP reported. In February, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border, claiming that a border wall is needed to stop a mounting security and humanitarian crisis.
Since then, conservation groups have sued the administration for waiving environmental laws and unnecessarily diverting Pentagon money to rush wall construction through protected areas, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
The latest filing is a part of a response in a pending lawsuit by three conservation groups. The environmentally conscious groups claim construction and presence of a wall in those areas would harm endangered or threatened species.
Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asked a federal judge to stop construction on 68 miles of wall in three Arizona federal preserves: Cabeza Prieta, Organ Pipe and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. The injunction request says the government unlawfully ignored dozens of laws and that the new barriers will damage wildlife habitat, as the Arizona Republic reported.
"It's a small but important victory for public lands and wildlife," said Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, as the Arizona Daily Star reported. "Every day the project is delayed is a good day."
He added that the court filing amounted to a "de facto injunction" that will "give the judge a chance to rule on the merits of the case before irreparable harm is done."
The government claims the replacement fencing is crucial to protecting national security and it will proceed with construction on a two-mile stretch near an official border crossing beginning next week, according to the AP.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife joined the Center for Biological Diversity in filing for an emergency injunction to delay the start of construction of a border wall.
"It's senseless to let bulldozers rip a permanent scar through our borderlands' wildlife refuges and national monuments before the court decides whether the waiver is legal," said Jean Su, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "Trump's ignoring laws and diverting funds to build this destructive border wall. His grotesque barrier would destroy some of the border's most spectacular and biologically diverse places. We'll do everything in our power to stop that."
If a federal judge sides with the government, then construction on the wall may continue. However, if the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could postpone construction for a long time, possibly permanently. The Center for Biological Diversity claims that construction in the federal preserves violates the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and other laws that protect air and water quality on public lands and the animals that live there, as the Arizona Republic reports.
"Every American should be outraged that the border wall in Arizona will be built across some of our most iconic national wildlife refuges and national park lands," said Bryan Bird, southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, in a press release. "It will tear through lands so precious that Congress chose to protect them for all American's posterity and enjoyment. Defenders will continue to fight to stop this abuse."
While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.
Earlier this year, EcoWatch reported that construction equipment showed up around the center, ready to bulldoze more than 70 percent of the butterfly sanctuary's 100 acres, which more than 200 species of butterflies call home.
The National Butterfly Center is not only home to butterflies but also to various species of bees, including some only found around the Rio Grande in southern Texas and northern Mexico. A team of wildlife photographers and scientists documented the wild bees found in the butterfly center that will be displaced if the border wall is constructed. They photographed some species that have never been seen before in the U.S.
"Many of these bees range no more than a few hundred yards from their nests in a lifetime, and so the National Butterfly Center is the only home they've ever known," said Paula Sharp, a lead photographer on the project, to the Revelator. She noted that the butterfly center is safe zone for pollinators since it is ecologically pristine — that is, it is free from pesticides, erosion, invasive species and habitat destruction, which is found in nearby areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
"Bees are central to every habitat because they are the pollinators that sustain the plants that feed birds, mammals and other creatures," Sharp said, according to the Revelator. "If you destroy the bees, you do irreparable harm to the environment."
EcoWatch reported earlier this year that "the butterfly center's fate was sealed in December when the Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife to appeal a federal court decision that the Trump administration can waive 28 environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, in order to build 33 more miles of wall, including the section that runs through the refuge."
If Trump's border wall goes up, "vegetation would be eliminated, leading to greater radiant heat temperatures, erosion, lack of water filtration, diminished air filtration" and other serious environmental issues, said Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.
The threats to the environment extend beyond just the National Butterfly Center and continue to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 98,000 acres of federally protected land. The 300-mile wildlife corridor in South Texas is home to 17 threatened or endangered species, more than 530 species of birds, 330 butterfly species and 1,200 types of plants. It's one of the most biodiverse places in North America, according to Yale Environment 360.
"Whatever they build, it's going to be destructive to natural habitat," said Bob Dreher, an attorney who heads Defenders of Wildlife conservation programs, as National Geographic reported. "It's about the physical reality of what a permanent barrier will do in one of the most sensitive landscapes in North America."
By Lucy EJ Woods
In early April the mutilated body of a jaguar was discovered in Mexico's Yaxchilán Natural Monument.
Researchers investigating the death quickly concluded that the animal, which had been tracked in neighboring Guatemala since 2015, had crossed the border and fallen prey to wildlife traffickers, who may have taken its head for sale on the black market.
Deaths like this, when a jaguar crosses the border from a protected area into a different country, may have something to do with the big cats' plummeting populations, experts worry.
"The males have to move across long distances and sometimes go outside of reserves or protected areas to buffer zones and areas populated by people," said Rony García-Anleu, director of the biological research department for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Guatemala (WCS).
Today the wide-ranging jaguar (Panthera onca), which once lived throughout South America and north into the U.S., is considered a threatened species. Conservation groups estimate there are only 15,000 wild jaguars left, mostly due to poaching and deforestation.
As García-Anleu explains, the boundaries between countries are important for humans, but they don't exist for animals. Jaguars require vast amounts of barrier-free land and don't care about man-marked territories. While females stay in one area, males roam across continents in search of food and mates. They crisscross borders throughout the Americas, traveling as far south as Argentina and as far north as Arizona and New Mexico in the U.S.
To learn more about how borders create problems for jaguars, WCS has used camera traps to track and study 14 jaguars in Tikal National Park, a World Heritage site in Guatemala's Petén Province. Home to thousands of animal and plant species, the park's 7,700 square miles of forested canopy stretch into neighboring Mexico and Belize.
Tikal National Park also contains culturally important Mayan temples.
Jason Houston / USAID
The study found that the big cats were constant travelers. WCS compared photos of jaguars in Tikal with photos taken by conservation groups in Mexico and Belize and discovered the organizations were often tracking the same animals. Each jaguar's coat has unique spots that, like human fingerprints, can be used to identify individuals.
Jaguar camera-trap photo.
Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. / The Revelator
Tikal is just one example of reserves across the Americas that exist along borderlines or occupy land in multiple countries. Such reserves attract people as well as wild creatures. In Central and South America, they've become home to guerrilla groups, refugees, cattle ranchers and traffickers.
Human vs. Jaguar
Drug traffickers "use the jungle like a shield," said García-Anleu, explaining that criminals set ablaze swaths of forests to clear land for private airstrips. "This is why the majority of the forest fires occur in this [border] part," he explains, pointing on a map to the western border of Guatemala and Mexico. "Here, you can see a lot of airplanes that narco-traffickers abandon."
Along with the dwindling numbers of jaguars and rising numbers of drug gangs, you can also find vulnerable families who sought refuge from violence in central Guatemala during the country's decades-long brutal civil war. The 36-year-long conflict ended in 1996 with hundreds of thousands dead, 83 percent of whom were estimated to be Mayan.
Many people were legitimately relocated and given land titles in these areas, while others, both before and after the 1996 Peace Accord, settled out of desperation as Guatemala's population grew and land ownership was awarded only to an elite few, explains WCS program director Roan McNab.
Today some settlers are "clueless about the laws and get snookered, but most are well aware that the land is a protected area," he said. Now people settle illegally — not as war refugees but "because they are desperate or because they are land speculators."
WCS estimates there are now 10,000 people settled in Laguna del Tigre National Park and 15,000 in Sierra del Lacandon National Park.
"Land is one of Guatemala's most precious commodities," said McNab. "Given the levels of corruption and the undercurrent of influence from narco-trafficking on the border with Mexico, land speculation has been, and remains, rampant in these two border parks."
WCS has worked with one of the rural communities, Paso Caballos, since 2008, training and employing people to assist with conservation.
The organization also fostered a conservation agreement with local and national government, including a grant of $25,000 every year, half of which is invested in vital services for 1,800 people. The other half pays for patrols of a 20-square-mile buffer area outside the village.
But Paso Caballos is the only community offering to assist with conservation, possibly due to threats from criminal gangs, McNab said.
Clearing the path for sustainable development and conservation will require the government to prioritize addressing organized crime. The situation now "is chaotic, providing a clear win for the organized crime interests that prefer weak institutions and instability in the area," he said.
All of this growth and crime has hurt the local wildlife. As more people began to occupy reserve land along the border, jaguar habitat naturally decreased, as did the animals' prey. This created further conflict between the cats and people. Hungry jaguars, which typically avoid humans, have been known wait until nightfall to prey on calves on cattle ranches located next to reserves. To protect their livelihoods, farmers often hunt and kill the great cats.
Jaguar camera-trap photo.
Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. / The Revelator
In response to this growing threat to jaguars, WCS decided to help one rancher by using a simple remedy, an easy-to-build enclosure to safeguard calves at night. The enclosure, similar to ones used to protect livestock from lions and wolves in other parts of the world, proved successful. The farmer told his neighbors and they all started to build their own cattle enclosures, said García-Anleu.
"We did not want to take a punishment approach," said García-Anleu, adding that sharing information and pictures of jaguars with the communities that live on or near to reserves helps to motivate people — regardless of background, nationality or ethnicity — to join and assist in conservation efforts.
A New Threat Emerges
On the northeastern side of the Guatemalan border in southern Mexico, James Callaghan, director of the Kaxil Kiuic Millsaps Biocultural Reserve in Yucatan, explains how another human-induced obstacle threatens jaguars across the continent.
There are "a lot of fatalities from highways, with cars hitting jaguars and killing them," said Callaghan.
One of the biggest emerging threats to jaguar habitat in southern Mexico at the moment is a proposed interstate train line called the Tren Maya (Mayan Train), which would cross five southeastern Mexican states (Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Tabasco) and encourage domestic and international tourism. Multiple jaguar reserves, including Kaxil Kiuic and Calakmul Biosphere on the Mexico-Guatemala-Belize border, will be affected by Tren Maya.
Alongside other large infrastructure projects in Mexico, such as dams and wind farms, Tren Maya crosses Mayan communal land and will disrupt the migration paths of jaguars and their prey, degrade water sources and decrease forest area.
"We are not against development," he said. "The big issue is, can it be sustainable? Can we create win-win situations for all of the animals, humans included?"
The same question of balancing human infrastructure needs with wildlife is also being asked further north, in the state of Arizona, where experts say jaguars — along with black bears and many other animals — are threatened by the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. Part of Arizona's border with northern Mexico is also a 1,000-square-mile reserve.
The border wall "would be 'game over' for both jaguar and ocelot recovery in [the U.S.]," said Chris Bugbee, a senior researcher at Conservation CATalyst, in a statement alongside a video released this year of a rare ocelot spotted in Arizona.
Both Callaghan and García-Anleu say humans and jaguars alike can benefit from international and interstate conservation cooperation and the standardization of data.
"One of the biggest desires of [conservation] groups is to create a common database," said Callaghan.
"We need a good monitoring system that we can share with other countries," said García-Anleu. "This jaguar trail is a long trail, so we need to work closely with people in Belize and Mexico." No international system like this currently exists, but several countries and organizations each have their own monitoring programs.
More importantly, for the border-crossing jaguar to thrive again in the Americas, experts say humans need to work together across state and country lines. That includes tackling a wide range of anthropocentric issues ranging from sustainable infrastructure development to the destruction of reserves by traffickers.
As Callaghan said, "To move anything forward with the conservation of the jaguar, we have to work with all people, indigenous, local and abroad, and we have to work together."
Lucy EJ Woods is an international freelance journalist specializing in on-the-ground environmental reporting.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
By John R. Platt
How will Trump's border wall affect wildlife in the U.S. and Mexico?
As I discussed recently on the Sciencentric podcast, the wall's true impact becomes more evident when you envision all of the things that accompany it: Roads, vehicles, lights, and acres upon acres of cleared habitat. That's bad news for jaguars, bears, birds, bees and hundreds, if not thousands, of other species.
Check out the video interview below, where host Eric R. Olson and I also discuss The Revelator, my work on "Extinction Countdown," and what technologies might work instead of a wall.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared inScientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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Wolves and Jaguars Are Already Threatened by Border Razor Wire As Trump Vetoes Bid to Block Emergency Wall Funding
President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday, overturning Congress' vote to block his national emergency declaration to fund a border wall that environmental advocates say would put 93 endangered species at risk. However, the president's decision came the same day as an in-depth report from UPI revealing how razor wire placed at the border in the last four months already threatens wildlife.
Trump's veto follows votes by both the House and Senate to overturn his national emergency to access military funding for the wall after Congress refused to grant him the $5.7 billion in wall funding he requested, BBC News explained. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would vote on overriding his veto March 26; however, it is unlikely the Senate will muster the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, there are several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the emergency declaration, including one brought by the Sierra Club.
"The Sierra Club is committed to fighting these border walls and this abuse of communities, immigrants, and our natural environment through every step of Trump's backwards, cruel agenda," Sierra Club Director of Federal Policy Melinda Pierce said in a statement. "We will continue to challenge this fake national emergency and share the real stories and voices of border communities who know the only crisis is the one the Trump administration is creating."
Trump Abuses Power-- Again-- in Vetoing Resolution to Terminate Bogus National Emergency https://t.co/zesTrGJ380 #FakeTrumpEmergency— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1552682819.0
However, while the fight continues surrounding future border wall construction, barriers already in place are causing harm. Since November, troops have laid 210 miles of razor wire along the border to deter people from crossing, UPI reported Friday. Wildlife advocates say this poses a risk to endangered Mexican gray wolves and jaguars who need to cross freely in order to hunt and mate.
"It's a decidedly effective barrier. The wire has razor sharp edges. It would stop people and animals. It's ugly that we have gotten to this point," Montana Democratic State Sen. Mike Phillips, who is also a conservation scientist and director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, told UPI.
Phillips said he had worked to save the Mexican gray wolf for 30 years. There are only 114 of them left in northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S., which means it is very important that they can cross the border to find mates and maintain genetic diversity.
"When species numbers are so low, that's when connectivity becomes really important," Phillips explained.
The wire also impedes jaguars, which are also extremely rare. Only 80 to 120 of them live along the Arizona border, according to Defenders of Wildlife, and the health of that population is essential if they are to recover in the U.S.
"Any border barrier creates a death zone around it and poses a danger to people and wildlife," Defenders of Wildlife Southwest Program Director Bryan Bird said. "Wildlife are going to end up entangled in the wire, meaning more deaths. In the case of endangered wildlife, we don't have the luxury of losing even one."
ICYMI: "If we are ever going to see this population recover in the United States, where they are extremely rare now… https://t.co/OzesV0OkJC— Defenders of Wildlife (@Defenders of Wildlife)1552845604.0
Environmentalists and local officials said that the wire had been installed without any public impact.
"The U.S. government has a way of doing things without letting locals know," Santa Cruz County, Arizona Sheriff Tony Estrada, who had wire placed in his jurisdiction without prior approval, told UPI. "They don't consider touching base. They don't ask for opinions. They are afraid to hear we won't want wire. So they just go ahead and do it."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has also proven unresponsive to requests to remove the wire, such as one issued by Texas Democratic Representative Vicente Gonzalez in December of 2018.
"There are currently no plans to remove the concertina wire," CBP said, according to UPI.
By Luis Torres
For some people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's attempt to declare a national emergency and extend the border wall is worse than a wasteful, unconstitutional stunt. It's an attack on their way of life that threatens to desecrate their loved ones' graves.
That's why Earthjustice is helping them take the Trump administration to court and put a halt to this abuse of power. On March 14, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of border residents including the Ramirez family of San Juan, Texas, who own the property where the 154-year-old Eli Jackson Cemetery is located. If construction on the border wall proceeds, it may require the exhumation and desecration of remains within the cemetery.
"President Trump's so-called border 'emergency' would make it harder for our family, our children, and our children's children to visit our loved ones' final resting places," says Dr. Ramiro Ramirez. "For months now, we've lived with the uncertainty of what might happen to our home, our cemetery, and the land we've lived on for generations. Enough is enough."
Our clients in this lawsuit also include the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, whose ancestors inhabited the Rio Grande Valley for centuries and whose sacred sites would be disturbed by wall construction; Elsa Hall, a landowner on the border; the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC); and a number of local and national leaders representing affected communities.
Earthjustice senior legislative representative Luis Torres understands firsthand how additional miles of wall will rip apart communities. He grew up on the Texas side of the Rio Grande River, in a family that straddled the border. Here, he describes the border he knows and why we must fight Trump's wall.
Descendants of Eli Jackson stand in a 145-year-old Texan church that bears his name. Construction on Trump's border wall may desecrate a cemetery next to the church.
The following are remarks Torres originally prepared for "Voices from the Border: the Social and Environmental Impacts of the Border Wall," a congressional briefing hosted by GreenLatinos, Earthjustice, and United We Dream Action.
I was born and raised on the border, in the city of Laredo, Texas, which sits on the Rio Grande River across from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
If members of Congress knew the border I know, they wouldn't be negotiating over funding for a massive, hateful, unnecessary border wall.
Like many border residents, my family lived on the U.S. side but also had family, friends, and business on the Mexican side — el otro lado, we called it. Living on the border means celebrating American and Mexican holidays; it means having a barbecue on the Fourth of July and also sitting by the Rio Grande to watch the carnival lights of the annual feria expomex, the annual fair to kick off Mexican independence day festivities; it means celebrating George Washington's birthday and also Día De Los Muertos.
Torres and his parents walk along the Rio Grande.
Luis Torres / Earthjustice
This is the border to me. This is what I call home.
I lived in Laredo for 18 years before I left for Washington, D.C., to study and work on Capitol Hill to make a difference for the people of my beloved border community. I quickly learned that many on the Hill don't know the border like we do. They don't see the border like we see it. They don't see Mexican people, and Mexican-Americans, tribes, and other communities the way we see them.
Politicians talk about an unsafe border: rampant with drugs, gangs, violence, and lawlessness. They talk about rapists, drug dealers, and criminals, midnight crossings, invasions, cartel shootouts, and anarchy. This is the insecurity narrative that radical right-wing politicians use to push their border agendas. But it isn't the border I know. It's not the border that raised me; where my family and friends live today.
Soon Congress will vote on whether or not to fund President Trump's border wall, and if so, how much money to give to it. But the fight over wall funding is about more than just the wall: It's about the fight to define the border, the people who live in border communities, and the lives of those who will come after them.
Members of Congress need to visit the border. They need to be vocal against the wall when they speak on the floors of the House and Senate. They need to fight every way they can against giving even a dime to the construction of this monument to division and hate. There are real human consequences to so-called "compromise" here — this isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. This is a fight for human lives.
This fight won't be easy. We certainly won't win if we talk about the border wall through a single-issue lens. If we talk about it comprehensively, we may have a chance. We need border residents; immigration and Latino advocates; environmental, wildlife, and conservation advocates; faith, indigenous, and community leaders — all of us — on the same page. Every one of us needs to remind Congress that:
Walls are lethal to humans and wildlife.
Walls cause flooding. They destroy nature, habitats, and resources.
Walls require the confiscation of private property. Walls cost billions to construct and billions to maintain.
Walls interfere with native sovereignty. Walls betray our values.
And walls have been totally, completely, and unequivocally rejected by the American public.
The author as a child at a party in Laredo.
Luis Torres / Earthjustice
The louder we speak up, the harder it is for our communities to be divided, pitted against each other, or used as bargaining chips in negotiations. And even if we fall short now, a new Congress is coming. Latinos have always struggled and fought to get Washington to take us seriously and stop treating us as second-class citizens — but we'll have a fighting chance in the new year.
But we need to make Washington hear us. We'll fight this wall now, we'll fight it next year, we'll fight it as long as Trump is in office, and we won't stop fighting, no matter what.
We won't quit until this wall is what and where it belongs — debris in the junkyard of history's worst ideas.
This post was originally published on Dec. 14, 2018. It has been updated to reflect the news of Earthjustice's lawsuit.
Luis A. Torres, MA.T. is a Senior Legislative Representative in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice.
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- Senate Votes to Overturn Trump's Emergency Declaration to Fund ... ›
- Border Wall ›
The U.S. Senate voted 59 to 41 Thursday to overturn President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to fund a border wall that would threaten 93 endangered species and devastate the environment and communities of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
The Senate vote comes a little over two weeks after a similar vote by the House of Representatives. Trump announced his intention to "VETO!" the resolution on Twitter Thursday, and Congress needs a two-thirds majority to override a veto, which is seen as unlikely. Nevertheless, the Senate vote will be seen as an embarrassment for the president, BBC News reported.
VETO!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1552590991.0
Twelve Republicans broke ranks to vote with Senate Democrats against the emergency declaration. They were Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
The Sierra Club, which has filed a lawsuit against the emergency declaration, celebrated the Senate's bipartisan rebuke.
"Today, 59 Senators put party aside, and put our democracy first. Senators on both sides of the aisle rejected the President Trump's attempt to violate the Constitution and circumvent Congress in order to drive his unpopular, hateful agenda," Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement. "Sierra Club applauds the Senate for pushing back against the militarization of safe towns and more destructive border walls in communities."
Big results in the U.S. Senate vote today to end the bogus 'emergency' on the border! #NoBorderWall It's doomed to… https://t.co/R9dt4bG0kY— Sierra Club Borderlands (@Sierra Club Borderlands)1552603200.0
However, many of the Republican rebels were not motivated by opposition to the border wall itself. Rather, they expressed concerns about what a future Democratic president would do with a precedent that allows the president to declare emergencies to fund favored political projects. Portman voiced fears similar methods would be used to take future environmental actions in particular, CNN reported.
"[A] future President may well say that climate change is a national emergency and use emergency authorities to implement the Green New Deal," Portman said, referring to a 10-year plan championed by progressive Democrats and climate activists to transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels while creating jobs and tackling inequality.
Trump issued the emergency declaration last month after Congress refused to authorize $5.7 billion in funding for the wall during a standoff that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. However, the Center for Biological Diversity noted that the bipartisan bill that eventually funded the government did include almost $1.4 billion for around 55 miles of fencing in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, which will damage ecosystems and communities there. Trump has asked for $8.6 billion in wall funding in his 2020 budget.
In a rare bipartisan push, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a major public lands package on Tuesday… https://t.co/r7qYOSF7DH— John Lundin 🌊 (@John Lundin 🌊)1550151386.0
Beto O'Rourke announced he would run for President in 2020 Thursday, making the Texas Democrat the latest primary contender to list combating climate change as a major priority.
"This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us," O'Rourke said in a video announcing his campaign. "The challenges that we face right now, the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater. And they will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America."
I am running to serve you as the next president. The challenges we face are the greatest in living memory. No one p… https://t.co/U6csWjQo3Y— Beto O'Rourke (@Beto O'Rourke)1552562945.0
A native of El Paso, Texas, O'Rourke served three terms in the House of Representatives before rising to national prominence in 2018 when he almost unseated Ted Cruz in the race to represent Texas in the Senate, CNN reported. It was the closest Senate race in Texas history since 1978, according to Vox. In recent months, he has actively campaigned against President Donald Trump's proposed border wall, holding a counter-rally in El Paso when the president spoke there in February to promote his barrier.
In his announcement video, O'Rourke mentions many key priorities, including workers' rights, expanding access to healthcare, improving legal pathways to immigration, criminal justice reform, racial justice and ending ongoing wars. But he closed his list of issues with a call for climate action.
"Perhaps most importantly of all, because our very existence depends on it, we can unleash the ingenuity and creativity of millions of Americans who want to ensure that we squarely confront the challenge of climate change before it's too late," he said.
Climate is shaping up to be a major issue on the 2020 campaign trail, a big change from the 2016 presidential election, during which a total of five minutes and twenty-seven seconds were spent discussing global warming and other environmental issues during the three debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, according to Grist. This time around, one Democratic candidate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, is making climate change the central issue of his campaign. At least five others have endorsed the Green New Deal, a 10-year plan championed by freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to transition to 100 percent renewable energy while creating jobs and supporting frontline communities.
O'Rourke has spoken positively of the Green New Deal, but, as Vox pointed out, his style is less to endorse specific policies than to debate solutions and listen to ideas with the goal of promoting general liberal values. His voting record is more conservative than the average Democrat's, however, and he has been criticized for taking campaign donations from oil companies.
In a Vanity Fair profile published Wednesday, he praised both the ambition of the Green New Deal and the idea of pricing carbon and "allowing the market to respond to that."
He also linked policies designed to address income inequality, such as Ocasio-Cortez' call for a higher marginal tax rate, with a push to mobilize the nation on climate issues.
"If you're trying to mobilize this country to meet an existential threat, as we did against the Nazis in World War II, then you're going to have to ask everyone to sacrifice," he said. "If you don't see a shared interest or shared opportunity to advance, then we'll no longer see ourselves in this together and this country will truly break apart. This level of gross income inequality cannot persist, and if there's a better way to get there, I'm open to it. But it's definitely going to involve higher marginal rates on the very wealthiest in this country."