Mexico Border Wall: Thousands of Scientists Warn of Threat to Wildlife

Over 2,500 scientists have banded together to warn that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico could harm wildlife.

In a paper published Tuesday, the group of scientists listed their concerns about the potential wall. The BioScience paper asked for other scientists to join in on the warning about the risk to wildlife and habitats in North America, citing multiple issues with the plan for the border. Of the scientists on the paper, 1,472 were from the United States and 616 were from Mexico. Overall, 43 countries were represented. This paper comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s new changes to the Endangered Species Act that were announced last week.

Trump campaigned in part on the idea of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

"We’ve started the wall. Started up in San Diego and other places," Trump said at a South Carolina rally in June. "It's under construction with $1.6 billion dollars, but we’re going to ask for an increase in wall spending so we can finish it quicker."

In Tuesday's paper, the first complaint the team of scientists listed is that the border wall bypasses laws placed to protect animals. The 2005 Real ID Act allows for the U.S. government to request waivers for laws that might slow down construction of the wall. The laws that they’re allowed to ignore include the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. 

According to the scientists, this means the government doesn’t have to conduct an environmental impact analysis, conduct postconstruction environmental monitoring, consult public input, or develop less damaging alternative strategies. Since the Real ID Act was enacted, the Department of Homeland Security has granted eight waivers in U.S. border states. The Trump administration acquired three of those waivers for the border wall construction in California and New Mexico in 2017.

This isn't the first time scientists have raised environmental concerns about the wall. In November 2017, four environmental nonprofits sued the Department of Homeland Security over the potential risk to wildlife, according to Business Insider.

"There’s no way one country, one state can provide what healthy populations need," Juan Carlos Bravo, the director of the Mexico Program for the Wildlands Network told the Albuquerque Journal in June. "Collaboration is a must for recovery."

The scientists who wrote the newly released paper said that the border wall could fragment, degrade and eliminate habitats. The group said the border bisects 1,506 native terrestrial and freshwater animal and plant species’ geographic ranges. Of those species, 62 are classified as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable. 

RTSIRN1 A newborn Mexican gray wolf cub, an endangered species, is seen at its enclosure at the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico. The Mexican gray wolf could be at risk from the construction of the wall. DANIEL BECERRIL/REUTERS

The Peninsular bighorn sheep, which is endangered, could struggle to move from Mexico to California to access their birthing sites and water, putting them at even further risk of extinction. The Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn could also suffer—both are endangered and have very small populations. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered wolf in North America with only 143 living in the wild as of 2017.

The team also points out that tribes, governments, private landowners and non-governmental organizations have invested millions into the conservation of millions of acres of protected land. They said the wall will risk the investments into that land, as well as obstruct scientific research of the areas. 

The scientists asked the Department of Homeland Security to follow all environmental laws, consider the habitats affected by the construction, and help scientific research continue in the region.