Immigration Meets Environmentalism

Immigration advocates and sympathizers aren't alone in expressing opposition to federal plans to erect a fence along the border separating states like Texas and Arizona from Mexico. The North American Butterfly Association, which set up a park in Mission, Texas, to serve as a wildlife refuge in the Rio Grande Valley as part of a multimillion-dollar effort by federal and state authorities to preserve the region's biodiversity, was dismayed to hear that the federal government was planning on fencing sections of the nearby border.

Having invested a tremendous amount of time and resources into making the park a popular destination for eco-tourists, Sue Sill, its executive director, and her colleagues are afraid that the fence will cut through areas of sensitive habitat and harm endangered or threatened species. "In the last 25 years, the federal government has been in the process of purchasing large chunks of land to create an extension of the wildlife refuge," said Gilberto Hinojosa, an attorney in Brownsville, a nearby city. "It would be completely inconsistent with that policy to cut the big section of that area out in order to put the border security fence.""From the environmental standpoint, the fence is a very, very disturbing thing," said Karen Chapman, water and wildlife analyst for Environmental Defense in Brownsville. "You are taking the entire ecosystem and you are drawing a line through it, making it impossible to function as a whole."

The Rio Grande Valley is one of the most biologically rich regions in the U.S. according to the Fish and Wildlife Survey. The 90,000 acres of native mesquite, sabal palm, Texas ebony and prickly pear provide a refuge for endangered species like the ocelot and jaguarondi, which would be especially hard-hit by the construction of the fence. "It is not just that they can't get to the water or to the food," said Martin Hagne, executive director of the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco. "If you have two populations that are cut off from each other, their genetic pool will shrink and eventually they will disappear."

One of the main issues at the heart of this imbroglio is the potential loss in eco-tourism money that the fence would engender. Estimating that it contributes close to $125 million to the local economy, officials warn that the fence would drive away enthusiasts interested in hiking, wildlife watching and canoeing along the river.

An alliance of 14 environmental groups and several business groups have appealed to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to urge his department to consider alternatives to the border fence, including a more eco-friendly "virtual fence" that would rely on cameras, sensors and other low-impact technologies. Their appeal may not go very far: President Bush recently threatened to veto a House bill that would've required the federal government to seek community feedback on the fence , alleging that doing so would "serve as an impediment of gaining control of the border."

Via ::Border fencing threatens critters — and eco-tourism (newspaper)

See also: ::Ret. Generals Warn GW Threatens Our Kids Security, ::Sweet Dreams Security, Safety with a Smile, ::Wildlife Preserve Planned for Korean Demilitarized Zone