Conservation groups show support for Texas refuges threatened by border wall

8/11/2017 | 0

Birdwatchers scan a marsh at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, one of the premier birding hotspots in the U.S. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Birdwatchers scan a marsh at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, one of the premier birding hotspots in the U.S. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Protests are planned on Saturday and Sunday, August 12 and 13, in the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas over plans to build a border wall through wildlife sanctuaries and private land.

The event on Saturday — Save the Mission, Save the River, Resist the Wall — is an ecumenical procession in the city of Mission, from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to La Lomita Chapel. Sunday’s march — the Protect Santa Ana Protest Hike — will be at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the 2,088-acre preserve that is home to more than 400 bird species.

In mid-July, the Texas Observer reported on plans that call for the construction of an 18-foot levee wall that would stretch for almost three miles through the refuge.

About a week after the Santa Ana news broke, Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, found contractors clearing brush and trees on the grounds of the center’s 100-acre property near the Rio Grande. They were on orders of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clear land for the wall, she said.

Since then, the Trump administration invoked the REAL ID Act of 2005, to waive 37 laws related to environmental protection in order to begin construction on the next phase of the border wall in San Diego. The butterfly center fears the lower Rio Grande Valley will be next.

Altamira Oriole is one of the specialty birds of South Texas. Photo by Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock

Altamira Oriole is one of the specialty birds of South Texas. Photo by Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock

“The lower Rio Grande is a national treasure for birds,” said Michael J. Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy. The nonprofit “opposes any action that would put the conservation integrity of these irreplaceable public lands at risk.”

Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, will participate in the hike at Santa Ana on Sunday, to represent the interests of birders and the birding community. Friends of the refuge and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club are hosting the protest, which begins at 9 a.m.

The ABA encourages birders to call and e-mail their members of Congress, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association launched an online petition opposing the wall.

“This is insane,” Scott Nicol, co-chairman of the Borderlands Team for the Sierra Club, told the Los Angles Times. “This is the crown jewel of the Rio Grande Valley wildlife refuge system, with one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the U.S. If it’s walled off, with no public access, it will be left to rot.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat who represents the area, said he is going “to fight like hell” to stop the wall. “These refuges are national treasures and sacred places,” he told the Times, “and we have to do everything we can to stop the Trump administration from putting this wall into place.”

Vela and five other Congressmen have spoken up against the wall, according to this ABC post. The Senate has not yet voted on funding a wall; to contact your senators, click here. — Matt Mendenhall, Editor

Stay up to date

For the latest info on the potential border wall and its impact on natural areas, follow these Facebook accounts:

National Butterfly Center

Save Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club

Center for Biological Diversity

American Bird Conservancy

American Birding Association