US President Donald Trump’s planned wall along the US-Mexico border could have devastating consequences for local wildlife populations, according to a host of ecologists and conservation scientists.
By creating a physical barrier across the country, the wall will carve up natural migratory routes, preventing the natural movement of wildlife populations, the scientists warn. This will block populations of species from intermixing, removing their ability to maintain healthy genetic stocks and replenish their numbers, meaning the area’s populations of numerous species would be at significant risk of collapse.
Interviewed by Lesley Evans Ogden for an article published today in the journal BioScience, the scientists described how the host of research already undertaken on the impacts of border walls has shown that they can be devastating for wildlife.
“If the wall is completed, it will create a considerable biodiversity conservation challenge – one unlikely to disappear anytime soon,” summarised Ogden.
Even before the US-Mexico wall has been built, the activities of border agents have been having a negative effect on migratory behaviour.
Research by David Christianson of the University of Arizona, for example, has found that populations pronghorn antelope appear to be avoiding the border area, likely due to the presence of patrols.
“Even when there isn’t a physical wall or much of a barrier, [border agents] are actively engaged in enforcing the law through patrols,” said Christianson, adding that such patrols often travel “right in the middle of this endangered species habitat”.
Perhaps more alarmingly, research seems to suggest that where walls have been built along the border, they appear more successful at deterring animals than humans.
Camera traps set up along the sections of the US-Mexico border where 4m and 5m (13ft and 16.4ft) walls have already been constructed found that animals populations such as pumas and coati were present in lower numbers. This was expected by researcher Jamie McCallum, a consultant at Transfrontier International, and his colleagues from the Zoological Society of London, but they were alarmed to find that the wall did not appear to be making any dent in the number of undocumented migrants or smugglers making an appearance.
“I thought it would have at least some kind of trace of an effect, even if it wasn’t a statistically significant finding. But it didn’t appear to,” said McCallum.
A centrepiece of Trump’s election campaign, the US-Mexico border wall has been a controversial proposal, drawing both fierce support and equally fierce criticism.
In March precise specifications for the wall were published as part of a Request for Proposal published on the Federal Business Opportunities website.
Describing the desired wall as “physically imposing”, the proposal required the wall to be between 18ft and 30ft (5.4m and 9.1m) tall, with a system to prevent tunnelling 6ft (1.8m) below the ground.
More than 200 companies submitted proposals for the wall, with finalists selected although not publicly disclosed earlier this month. Winners who will be asked to build short prototypes will be selected by mid-June.
However, whether the wall will end up being built along the entire border remains to be seen. In Trump’s 2018 budget, published yesterday, $1.6bn was allocated to its construction, an amount that would only allow a small section of the wall the be built.
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