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Proposed Border Wall Would Affect Many Endangered Species


The proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico would run along one of the most rugged and ecologically varied regions in the country. In addition to the many human rights and fiscal concerns, there is another, the environment. Will Stone of member station KJZZ reports from southern Arizona.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: A border wall wouldn't help Tony Sedgwick sleep better at night - in fact, quite the opposite.

TONY SEDGWICK: This wall is a symbol of failure. It's a symbol of practices that didn't work. It's a symbol of fear.

STONE: From a gusty ridge, Sedgwick traces the silhouette of the existing fence climbing across the folds of this craggy landscape. His family has ranched near the Arizona border south of Tucson since the '50s.

SEDGWICK: I ride down through this valley late afternoon, and I hear the hawks, and it's just the most beautiful place in the world. It's a hard, high desert.

STONE: A place where a wall makes little sense to Sedgwick, a self-described conservative. He says it threatens what he loves about this rugged stretch of the Sonoran Desert.

SEDGWICK: We'll see big cats. We'll see little cats, what they call lions here, leones. We'll see raccoon prints. We'll see coyotes. We'll see all kinds of animal prints.

STONE: And how wildlife negotiate a wall is also a big concern for the Sierra Club's Dan Millis, who works with ranchers like Sedgwick.

DAN MILLIS: It's just an arbitrary line that's drawn across a very diverse region.

STONE: The border spans nearly 2,000 miles, and the proposed wall could affect more than 100 endangered species - jaguars, Mexican gray wolves, plus a host of migratory birds.

MILLIS: We have animals that aren't able to move across the border. And in addition, we have water.

STONE: Millis and Sedgwick head down to the riverbed where the current fence gives way to smaller vehicle barriers. Sedgwick gestures to a pile of twisted steel and debris, the evidence of damage done by flash flooding here.

SEDGWICK: It's a roiling, dark mess. There's dead cows in there. There are trunks of trees. There are cars. It is extraordinary the power.

STONE: Sedgwick says erecting an impenetrable wall, as President Trump has called for, will only exacerbate these problems. But the first thought about a wall is safety for Pat King. Her family has ranched here for more than a century. She recounts one harrowing story after another - drug busts, bodies found on their land, people destitute, wandering into their home.

PAT KING: The horrors that went on - we'd have women come in and they were holding each other's hands, both hands, and they just had a death grip. And we would assure them that you'll be OK. No, they must have gone through hell.

STONE: It's not that King doesn't care about the environment, though. She works on conservation issues in this valley and pulls out a photo from 10 years ago depicting heaps of trash strewn across the desert.

KING: Where I was was about a four-hour walk from their pickup point.

STONE: Meaning people crossing from Mexico ditch their clothes, garbage.

KING: And cans and everything. It was just enormous, and you didn't even walk on the ground. You were walking on all of this stuff.

ROGER MCMANUS: It's unsightly. We'd rather not have it, but it's hardly the biggest problem.

STONE: Roger McManus is a conservation biologist. Before moving to Tucson, he and his wife, Dinah Bear, an environmental attorney, spent much of their careers in Washington working for the federal government.

DINAH BEAR: The largest waiver of law in American history was passed by Congress for border barriers in 2005 in the Real ID Act.

STONE: Bear points out that more than 35 laws can be bypassed in service of securing the border. So as far as environmental regulation, says McManus...

MCMANUS: Basically, we have the Third World down here. This is like a country in which the laws don't really matter.

STONE: Meaning roads spring up without the typical vetting process and so do barriers. That makes people like McManus and Bear concerned a border wall could go up with little regard for the environmental consequences. For NPR News, I'm Will Stone along the Arizona-Mexico border.

SIMON: Tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday, we'll hear more voices from the border. In the Rio Grande Valley, many people oppose the wall but some welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Who wouldn't want the wall, you know? Crooks, you know, illegals - they're the only ones that don't want the wall.

SIMON: Lulu Garcia-Navarro reports from southeast Texas tomorrow morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.

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