Biologists warn that federal plans to build a wall along the US-Mexico border could severely threaten some of the unique species that live there—and even push some to extinction in the US.
Borderlands are synonymous with desolation, but the Mexico-US divide is something altogether different, researchers say. The nearly 2,000-mile-long border traverses some of the continent’s most biologically diverse regions, including forests, grasslands, and salt marshes—home to more than 1,500 native animal and plant species.
Physical barriers prevent or discourage animals from accessing food, water, mates, and other critical resources by disrupting annual or seasonal migration and dispersal routes, researchers say. Work on border walls, fences, and related infrastructure, such as roads, fragments habitat, erodes soil, changes fire regimes, and alters hydrological processes by causing floods, for example.
“Every time you see a strip mall, airport, or housing development being constructed, you can be sure biodiversity is suffering.”
The potential for ecosystem damage was highlighted more than a decade ago, when the US Congress passed the Real ID Act. The 2005 law gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to waive any laws—including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act—that slow the wall’s construction.
A new paper in BioScience calls on scientists around the world to support solutions, such as requirements that DHS identify species, habitats, and ecological resources at risk from barrier construction and security operations; design barriers for maximum wildlife permeability where possible; and purchase or restore replacement habitat when environmental harm is inevitable. Nearly 3,000 scientists have signed on to endorse the paper’s message.