Donald Trump's Border Wall Could See 16,000 Years of History Destroyed, National Park Service Report Warns

The construction of President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall could see countless archaeological artifacts within Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument damaged or completely destroyed, according to an internal report from the National Park Service.

Cradled by Organ Pipe Cactus, the Sonoran Desert is home to at least 16,000 years of human history. Yet, according to the NPS's report, which was obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act, the Trump administration's border wall bid could see a significant share of that put at risk.

Forming part of the Old Salt Trail, a prehistoric trade route ancient cultures used to transport northern Mexican commodities like salt and obsidian before the arrival of Spanish missionaries, Western settlers and others who relied on the route, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to countless artifacts.

Among those that could be lost are stone tools, ceramic relics, beads and other pre-Columbian antiquities, including those that scientists may have had yet to discover, were it not for the construction crews about to tear through the historic desertland.

While the NPS's report suggested that as many as 22 archaeological sites could be at risk, officials with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which is overseeing the construction of the Trump administration's border wall, told the Post that it has looked at "most" of the archaeological sites identified in the study and found only five that fall within the area where it plans to construct barriers.

Of those five, the agency said just one site was identified as having "lithic scatter," or artifacts present.

The officials said, however, that they would not be delaying or altering their plans to see barriers erected across the national monument by January in order to conduct detailed surveys or excavations in the region.

Of course, it is not only "lithic scatter" that is at risk due to the border wall plans.

The historic region also carries connections at least a dozen Native American Tribes, including the Tohono O'odham Nation, whose reservation sits on the periphery of the park.

Speaking to the Post, Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said his tribe is staunchly opposed to the Trump administration's border wall bid.

"We've historically lived in this area from time immemorial," he said. "We feel very strongly that this particular wall will desecrate this area forever. I would compare it to building a wall over your parents' graveyards. It would have the same effect."

Not only are the heritage and historic sites and artifacts that they have managed to preserve for centuries, in large part thanks to the region's arid conditions at risk—the natural environment and its creatures could also be threatened by the border wall development.

Named as it is the only place in the U.S. where organ pipe cactus grows, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the entire country.

In addition to being home to at least 28 species of cacti, the park also provides shelter to many species, including several that are threatened or endangered. These include the Quitobaquito pupfish, an endangered species.

Environmental advocates have repeatedly sounded the alarm that building a 30-foot wall with new lighting features along the border could negatively impact animal migration and make it more difficult for wildlife to access the few water sources available in the desert.

Meanwhile, local hydrologists have warned construction crews pumping groundwater from an ancient spring to mix concrete for the project could risk sapping the spring dry.

"You don't need to withdraw all the water in the aquifer to see the effects of pumping," Hector Zamora, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, told The Arizona Daily Star.

"If the water table drops only a few feet, due to groundwater pumping, you will no longer see the springs," he said. "We know from the Sonoyta River that not too long after irrigation started in the valley, the perennial reaches of the river started to dry out and disappeared."

Despite warnings from environmentalists, local communities and the NPS, however, the Trump administration has charged ahead full steam with its efforts to bring the president's border wall vision to fruition.

Dated to July 2019, the NPS's report was released internally at a time when the DHS would have been looking to expedite the construction of its border wall in order to meet Trump's goal of seeing as many as 450 miles of barriers built before the end of 2020.

New construction at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument already began last month, with the Department of Homeland Security already overseeing the installation of barriers just east of the border crossing between Lukeville and Sonoyta in Sonora, Mexico.

Given that the NPS's report only pertains to a meager 11.3 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, it does not bode well for the overall impact that the construction of a 450-mile-long border wall might have on its surroundings—and with the artifacts that could be lost in the process in mind, we may never know what the true cost of might be.

Newsweek has contacted the DHS and the White House for comment for this article. It has also contacted the Tohono O'odham Nation, NPS and a number of environmental and archaeological groups.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
A sign warns against illegal smuggling and immigration in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Lukeville, Arizona, on February 16, 2017, on the U.S.-Mexico border. An internal report from the National Park Service has found that as many as 22 archaeological sites could be at risk of being damaged or destroyed in construction of the Trump administration's border wall.

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