Tuesday, 3 July 2007

US border security plan "will harm Texan wildlife"

A 10ft-high security wall which could extend for up to 700 miles along the Texan border with Mexico will cut directly through some of the US’s most important wildlife sites with possibly disastrous consequences.

The area around the Rio Grande, which marks the border between the two countries, is the northern limit for many tropical bird species, including Green Kingfisher, Brown Jay, White-collared Seedeater and Altamira Oriole. It is also home to the last population of Ocelots in the US, with fewer than 100 animals remaining. Habitat at world-famous sites like Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary and Bentsen-Rio State Park could be seriously disrupted, with a knock-on effect on nature tourism which is worth up to US $150 million to the area every year.

The wall is the initiative of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, which believes it will deter illegal immigration. However, residents and local officials in the Rio Grande Valley are united in opposition to the plan, and point out that similar schemes elsewhere have failed – like the 14 miles of California wall, under which 46 tunnels have been found. They also point out that the region’s economy depends on trade and good relations with neighbouring Mexico.

Ironically, another US government department, the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working with agencies in Mexico to restore corridors of habitat that would allow for movement of wildlife between the two countries. That movement might be stopped by a wall, say its critics, and in the case of Ocelots it could compromise the animals' ability to breed successfully or establish new territories.

“The fence is going to interrupt the environment for a lot of species,” said Ken Kaemmerer, Curator of Mammals for the Dallas Zoo and leader of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for Ocelots.

Speaking on the wider implications of the plan, Steve Ahlenius, McAllen Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, explained: “Virtually to a person, people who actually live along the border and deal with Mexico every day are vehemently opposed to the wall for many reasons. Very few people here believe a wall will work to keep out illegal immigrants … if they build a 10-ft wall, someone will just build an 11-ft ladder. There are better ways.”

Read more in The Dallas Morning News …

Photo: Green Kingfisher at Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary, Texas, by Dominic Mitchell