Monday, December 04, 2006

Border Security and Wildlife Migration

During the past year, concerns over illegal immigration led Congress to pass a bill authorizing a 700-mile double-layer security fence along the border between the United States and Mexico. The idea was to create an impenetrable barrier that would prevent people from crossing the border on foot or by vehicle except at authorized passage points. Unfortunately the wall may well obstruct migration for many animals, especially land-bound species. Our southwest border sits astride a major migration route for animals that winter in Mexico and farther south.

The linked article cites a few sites that may be affected by the border fence.

By Mr. Merritt's estimate, some 275 river miles – 150 aerial miles – of habitat now run through and between federal, state and private refuge tracts in South Texas. Among the tracts:

•The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge totals some 90,000 acres across 125 tracts from Falcon Reservoir to the Gulf of Mexico. Its goal is a 132,500-acre continuous corridor along the Rio Grande, complementing city, county and privately owned greenbelts. The refuge is host to 484 species of birds and more than 300 species of butterflies.

•The federal government returns some 800 acres of South Texas refuge land each year to native brush. Just two days after Mr. Bush signed the fence bill, 800 schoolkids, Boy Scouts and other volunteers planted more than 14,000 seedlings along the river in Hidalgo County as part of this year's Rio Reforestation effort.

•The 2,000-acre Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Mission, considered a hot spot for rare species seen nowhere else in the United States.

•Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission, home of the World Birding Center and NABA's International Butterfly Park, are two other refuges that have collected millions of dollars in government and private grants to expand territory near the border.

The managers of these federal and state refuges are working together to ensure that their concerns are part of the planning process. Whether they will be given much weight remains to be seen.