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Hey! Chertoff! Leave our birds alone!

April 25, 2008

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a birder in this day and age is the willful disregard of nearly all environmental safeguards and policies in the name of “security” and “freedom”. Of course, this sort of thing manifests itself in the current administration’s most recent in a long list of boondoggles, the 20 foot wall currently under construction along the Mexican border. It affects birders in a big way because part of the border wall cuts into one of the best birding spots in the United States, the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The basics of which have been covered admirably by John at Born Again Bird Watcher.

This issue hits me on a personal level. Some of the best birding experiences I’ve ever had have been in the LRGV. My grandmother is a winter Texan in McAllen and my family would often plan a trip down there around our spring break. In my most recent trip, just over a year ago, I picked up 10 additional lifers, and had a blast checking out new places like Estero Llano Grande State Park and Sabel Palm Sanctuary (where I almost had a Grey-crowned Yellowthroat), the latter of which will be completely cut off and essentially ceded to Mexico should the wall be completed.

When I first heard of the decision to build a border wall in the valley I, and I suspect many of us, imagined a wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Big Bend. Such a wall would, of course, be disastrous for local wildlife, completely cutting off non-flying animals that squeak into the US across the border, and limiting the ability of the birds that we love so much from crossing. I imagined a wall through the riverfront at Santa Ana, or along the levee outside Bentson. It would be terrible for nature lovers, but likely would indeed keep a fair few undocumented immigrants out of the country. So at least, wherever you stand on the immigration issue, you’d have to admit that such a wall would do it’s job. But I felt I was justified in imagining the worst.

Turns out I’m kind of wrong. The wall is to be built in sections, see the map here (.pdf, Warning, runs a bit slow). It’s piecemeal and seems to be built primarily in places where a giant concrete wall would be easiest to erect rather then places where it may be the most effective for the job it’s supposed to do. Those who have seen the clothes and belongings scattered in the trees along the river at Santa Ana know that people will always find another spot to cross. They’ll just go to where the wall isn’t. Looking at the map, it is absolutely amazing how one could think that it would even come close to doing even the job of keeping undocumented immigrants out of the country.

So, what we have here is a structure that impacts a crucial and special bit of habitat in a incredibly detrimental way, and doesn’t even accomplish the goal of controlling immigration. It’s a boondoggle. It’s the appearance of security. It’s the absolute least you can do and the absolute laziest way to do it. Yet they proceed.

I’m glad to some extent, that the proposed wall will not affect my very favorite birding spots like Bentson and Santa Ana, though the loss of Sabel Palm certainly is tragic. The real issue though, and my greatest worry, is that a precedent has now been set for the wholesale disregarding of environmental laws in the interest of that nebulous idea of “national security”. Or even worse, this security theater. What does this hold in store for other protected areas in the United States? ANWR is the first that comes to mind, but other could conceivably be at risk too. It seems to be par for the course for the current administration.

It’s just another brick in the wall.

  1. John permalink
    April 25, 2008 9:13 am

    “Security theater” sounds about right. They have to do this to please their base, and it’s good for setting nasty precedents.

  2. Jochen permalink
    April 25, 2008 9:40 am

    John, that development (precedents) is exactly the reason so many people, especially abroad, are worried.

    The amount of land cut off is astounding. You’d think they would at the very least have planned for a few gates here and there to maintain access. Well, these “wastelands” might turn into a natural oasis with land use and disturbance being made impossible, or they might deteriorate and degrade with lack of management for wildlife. Suppose we’ll never know as no one will be allowed to go and have a look!

  3. slybird permalink
    April 25, 2008 10:31 am

    I just can’t fathom this kind of inanity. It’s like they feel they aren’t even expected to act rationally anymore. And we’re all suckered into it. What can we actually do to change the situation?

  4. Rick permalink
    April 25, 2008 10:58 pm

    This is typical of the way this President runs the country. Suspend all the rules and build something that will probably not work can you spell The Great Wall Of China? Terrible

  5. NO BORDER WALL permalink
    April 26, 2008 9:00 pm

    This is why it is critical that everyone who cares about birds, the environment, or just the basic proposition that one unelected Bush appointee should not have the power to brush aside our nation’s laws should contact their members of congress and let them know that since Congress gave Chertoff this power it is up to Congress to take it back. Members of the House should sign on to the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act, which repeals section 102 of the Real ID Act. Senators should introduce a companion bill. The right wing has been loud and clear on this, and Congress is listening to them. Now we need to make our voices heard.

  6. Becky permalink
    April 27, 2008 7:33 pm

    I spent 2 weeks helping build one of the boardwalks at Sabal Palm one hot summer and it is a true, true tragedy that it will become a no mans land. We spent a lot of time also pulling out a nasty invasive weed and I wonder without management if it will just take over the sanctuary.

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