Oh Give Me a Home, Where the Buffalo Are Subject to Search, Seizure and Possible Arrest

The Senate has approved a bill to build a 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. The barrier, of course, is designed to keep out illegals. Humans, that is. The Senate argued long and hard about the feasability, and symbolism, of the United States erecting a wall to keep people out. But one thing was virtually ignored in the debate. Homo Sapiens aren't the only ones who go back and forth across the 2,000-mile southern border. Each year, according to the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, scores of undocumented ocelots, jaguarundis and other species traverse the terrain in flagrant violation of U.S. law. Some go back and forth because they claim both sides of the border as their "natural" habitat and refuse to recognize international boundaries. Others apparently come to the United States to take jobs that American animals won't do.

But that would all change if the fence goes up. The massive structure would interrupt range patterns and cut off access to many species' food and water sources. And the animals can't simply go around the fence, which will extend well past their territories. "We can't just shrink down the amount of available habitat and expect everything to be OK," says Heather Zichal, who works on environmental issues for Sen. John Kerry. "Animals will die off, stop reproducing. It's the basic law of ecology."

Maybe the fence, which will stretch in sections from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, will have a series of giant doggy-doors to let the wildlife through? Doubtful. Over the years, the federal government has spent millions building vehicle barriers that keep vehicles out but let animals pass through, but they will be torn down to make way for the fence. In fact, because the bill falls under the purview of Homeland Security, the department can bypass environmental regulations that protect fragile terrain and animal habitats. The fence would also run near or through miles of parks and other protected areas along the border, including Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas and Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the Sonoran desert, home to a small population of imperiled pygmy owls and the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, of which there are said to be fewer than 75 in the United States. Of course owls, at least, can fly over the border. Now if the Senate would approve a few hundred million for nets ...