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Border Wall Could Destroy Wildlife Habitat at National Monument in Southern Arizona, Sierra Club Says

Data pix.

There are four endangered species found in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 515-square-mile federal natural reserve in southwest Arizona, which is marked by 200-year-old majestic saguaro cacti.

This part of the Sonoran desert is vast and desolate – and it's an area where the National Park Service is trying to promote the growth of endangered or near-endangered species.

If a 32-mile, 30-foot border wall is built here, it could damage this area, Dan Millis of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Project says.

The Sierra Club, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Border Communities Coalition, filed a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build parts of the wall along the Arizona and California border, including at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

In July, five of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices granted a Trump administration request to temporarily halt a lower court order that would have stopped construction. The case is continuing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

But construction of the wall has already begun near Lukeville, Arizona, just miles from this reserve, and Millis is worried that soon work also will start in the park.

“It’s easiest to build where you already built. They already have the access roads. They already have the staging areas. And they already own the land because this is a national monument,” Millis said.

President Donald Trump recently called a newly constructed section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Diego “a world-class security system.” His administration has said that the purpose of the wall is aimed at preventing illegal crossings along the border.

In February 2019, a federal appeals court ruled that the administration was permitted to waive environmental rules to speed up construction of the wall.

A spokesman for the Justice Department told The Hill in a statement that “the court has affirmed that authority, and that is a victory for the Trump administration, for the rule of law, and above all, for our border security."

The 2005 Real ID Act gave the federal government authority to waive compliance with environmental laws for projects pursued in the name of homeland security.

These four species of plants and animals that live at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are endangered:

  • Quitobaquito pupfish are tiny. Adult males only grow to an inch and can be seen by their blue glow. Behind the park’s Kris Eggle Visitor Center, there is a special pond where some of the fish grow, but the majority only live at Quitobaquito Springs.
  •  The Acuña cactus is a stocky, 16-inch plant that's protected in the park by large metal barricades meant to prevent off-roading. From 1991 to 2010, the monument lost 95 percent of these cacti.
  • The Sonoran pronghorn, also called the “desert ghost,” looks like an antelope but is smaller and faster and can get to speeds of 60 mph.
  • The Lesser Long-Nosed Bat thrives on the 31 types of cactus that grow in the park. The bat was removed from the endangered species list last year but is still closely watched.

“That bat is going to be disoriented by these daytime-bright 30 miles-long lights,” Millis said.

A popular campground on the park, known for its “deep, dark starry nights” with campers and hikers, may also be affected by the glow of floodlights.

A recent Washington Post article reported that a July 2019 internal National Park Service report warns that there are up to 22 archaeological sites that “likely will be wholly or partially destroyed by forthcoming border fence construction” at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. These lands are also the ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham people.

A new brochure that is given out at the visitor’s center states: “The fruits of saguaro and organ pipe cactus provided food during the hot Sonoran summer” for these people.

Nellie Jo David, a member of the tribe, says these are her family’s ancestral lands and she worries if a border wall will disturb and desecrate the remains of her people.

Read a previous Border Report story and video of Nellie Jo David on building a wall at the park.

Nellie Jo David of the Tohono O’odham people says a border wall will desecrate her tribe’s ancestral remains. She visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Construction plans call for a 30-foot-tall steel bollard fence built where an earlier, shorter wall was put in 2008. The new wall will have an underground concrete and steel foundation eight to 10-feet deep, according to the article, which was written by submitting Freedom of Information Act for specific details.

An 18-foot-high wall was built in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in 2007 on the border between the park, located in southwestern Arizona, and Sonoyta, Mexico. A 30-foot tall steel wall is to be built at that same location as part of the Trump Administration’s border wall. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

And the new wall is to be built exactly where the current wall is.

Millis says the construction of a road next to the current wall is contributing to flooding at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. On a ridge called Monument Rise, where the current wall goes up and over, Millis believes debris and silt are getting clogged in the slats of the wall when it rains and that causes a gully wash that flows downhill, injuring plants and animals.

Metal barricades were put up at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to protect the soil where cactus and endangered plants and species live. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com. She is part of a team traveling the Southwest border and reporting stories from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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