Donald Trump's Border Wall Construction Crew Just Bulldozed Through the Iconic Cacti This National Park Was Created to Protect

The Trump administration has sparked outcry in Arizona after video posted on social media showed construction crews tasked with building President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall bulldozing down some of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument's most "iconic" cacti.

Speaking to Newsweek, Kevin Dahl, the Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association who captured the viral video of a Saguaro cactus being mowed down, said he was "heartbroken and outraged" after witnessing the incident. "At that point, what they were doing was destruction, not construction," he said.

While the video Dahl shared on social media appeared to only show a bulldozer pushing a fallen cactus out of the way, images and footage he shared with Newsweek show the cactus clearly standing before being knocked over.

The conservation association program manager also captured images of cacti marked with spraypaint, which he said he understood was being used to indicate which cacti were to be removed.

Previously, Dahl noted, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is assisting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency with overseeing the construction of the border wall, had said that it would be "relocating" cacti, including Saguaro and Organ Pipe plants.

Video posted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows what that relocation process should look like, with "USACE Task Force Barrier" team members carefully removing a cactus plant with the help of an extraction tool, rather than bulldozing it over.

Cacti
Cactus
A cactus plant marked with spray-paint appears to stand before a bulldozer at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. Later footage appears to show the cactus having been knocked over the bulldozer.

Contacted for comment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers referred Newsweek to CBP, while CBP spokesperson Matthew Dyman requested additional video and photos of the incident before commenting, which Newsweek has since provided.

In the meantime, Dyman shared a joint statement from CBP and the National Park Service, which touts the two agencies' efforts to manage "environmental resources and border security" in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

"Over the last 10 years, CBP and NPS have worked closely together to identify strategies for protecting environmental resources within the parks by minimizing the footprint needed for border enforcement activities," the statement reads.

"These strategies have been effective in not only protecting sensitive biological, cultural, and historical resources within the parks but have also been effective in increasing border security which allowed OPCNM to restore public access to a number of park areas after several years of closure." The statement noted that "more than half the monument was closed to the public due to safety concerns from cross-border illegal activity, such as human and narcotic smuggling."

The statement also asserts that CBP and NPS had taken measures to ensure that there will be "locations for small wildlife passages within the new border barrier that would allow for the continued passage of small mammals" and that the two agencies had "developed strategies to protect and minimize impacts to the Quitobaquito Springs to include no use of groundwater within five miles of either side of the springs."

For Dahl, however, CBP's assurances are not enough, with the National Parks Conservation Association worker looking for answers as to why construction crews appear to be knocking down Saguaro cacti, rather than relocating them or leaving them standing.

For decades, Dahl said, Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been recognized in the U.S. as a protected space. Both a U.S. National Monument and a UNESCO biosphere reserve, the park has long been identified by local indigenous groups, including the Tohono O'odham Nation, as sacred land.

Meanwhile, archaeologists have sought to preserve the 16,000 years of human history that the monument contains, while environmentalists have fought to protect the range of endangered species and cactus plants that call it home.

Despite the monument's clear spiritual, historic and environmental significance, however, the Department of Homeland Security has waived a number of laws in a desperate bid to realize Trump's promise to see as many as 450 miles of border wall constructed before the end of 2020.

So far, the DHS still appears to have more than 380 miles to go and, as a result, cries to see land like the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument spared from construction have fallen largely on deaf ears.

"Anybody who lives on the border knows that walls don't stop anything. People go over, under or through them, despite them making it a little harder in some places," Dahl said. "The only possible explanation for this is that a presidential candidate made a promise that he should not have made."

Sharing Dahl's video of the destruction at the park, activist Laiken Jordahl also lamented that Trump's border wall was being constructed "through the most pristine Sonoran Desert ecosystem anywhere on the planet."

"Endangered species, Indigenous sacred sites and wilderness lands are being destroyed before our eyes," he said.

Jordahl also took specific aim at the Trump administration for allowing construction crews to mow down saguaros, asserting that "Trump's reckless border hysteria is destroying our environment and killing the very species this national monument was designated to protect."

While the national monument is named after the organ pipe cactus, or Stenocereus thurberi, and is the only place in the U.S. where the plant species can be seen growing naturally, a number of fellow cacti, including the Saguaro, call the monument home.

In fact, with its tree-like stature, the Saguaro cactus is widely considered an iconic image of the southwest, with the saguaro blossom being the state wildflower of Arizona.

Native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, as well as the Mexican State of Sonora and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California, the Saguaro can live up to 150 to 200 years and can grow up to be up to 40 feet tall, as the largest cactus in the U.S., according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Environmentalists are also far from alone in calling for saguaro cacti to be spared from the Trump administration's border wall project, with the plant species also being of great significance to the Tohono O'odham Nation, whose reservation sits on the periphery of the park.

On Friday, Hon'mana Seukteoma, an indigenous activist and YouTuber lamented the devastation caused by Trump's border wall bid, writing on Twitter: "In O'odham stories, ha:sañ (saguaro cactus) are our people."

"They give us so many blessings and we respect them so deeply," the activist said. "Seeing this ha:sañ ripped out of the ground for this border wall construction breaks my heart. The Tohono O'odham Nation doesn't want this border wall!"

"We don't want this border wall for the destruction and desecration of the land it will bring to us," Seukteoma said in a following post.

Despite widespread opposition, however, the Trump administration has sought to push ahead with its goal of seeing as many as 450 miles of barriers built before the end of 2020.

Update: Since this story was published, CBP and the NPS acknowledged in a joint statement sent to Newsweek that while efforts were underway to salvage and relocate cactus plants, "plants determined not to be in a healthy enough state to be relocated" were being marked as not salvageable and removed. As of October 9, CBP and the NPS said 110 plants, including 76 Saguaro, 10 Ocotillo, 1 Senita, 16 Hedgehog, and 7 barrel cacti had been relocated from the Roosevelt Reservation.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Cacti stand on the Mexico side of the border fence at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Lukeville, Arizona, on February 16, 2017, on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trump administration has sparked outrage after video showed construction crews building President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall bulldozing cacti down as construction gets underway at the national monument. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty
Donald Trump's Border Wall Construction Crew Just Bulldozed Through the Iconic Cacti This National Park Was Created to Protect | U.S.
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