Arizona – Dynamite explosions shake this isolated corner of southeastern Arizona, forever changing the landscape by flattening mountains to erect more sections of the wall on the border with Mexico before Donald Trump leaves the presidency.
Each blast in Guadalupe Canyon causes a cloud of dust as workers clear ground to erect 30-foot (nine-meter) steel columns near the New Mexico border. Heavy machinery plows dirt roads up rocky slopes and digs pillar holes on state-owned land.
Trump has sped up wall construction in the past year, mostly at wildlife refuges and on government-owned Indian territories in Arizona and New Mexico, avoiding legal battles with landowners. The works have caused damage to the environment, prevented the free movement of animals and altered unique mountainous and desert landscapes. Environmental activists say the damage may be irreversible. The government, for its part, claims that it looks after national security and uses that argument to set aside laws that protect the environment in an effort to fulfill one of the main promises that Trump made during the campaign that brought him to the House. WhiteRELATED
Activists hope that President-elect Joe Biden will suspend these works, although that could be difficult and expensive, and the columns could still be installed already.
The worst damage occurred along the Arizona-Mexico border, where century-old saguaro cacti were downed in the western desert and ponds housing endangered fish were reduced in the eastern canyons. The most recent works closed access to the last large undamaged river in the Southwest, making it more difficult for desert tortoises, some ocelots and the world’s smallest owls to cross that border.
“Beautiful landscapes on both sides of the border are being transformed into industrial wastelands,” lamented Randy Serraglio of the Tucson Center for Biological Diversity.
At the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, near the Guadalupe Canyon, biologist Myles Traphagen said that the movement of animals (lions and lynx among others) captured by the cameras installed in the area decreased by 90% in the last three months.
“This wall is the largest obstacle to wildlife movement ever seen in this part of the world,” said Traphagen of the nonprofit Wildlands Network. “It is altering the evolutionary history of North America.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service created the nearly 10-square-kilometer (4-square-mile) refuge in 1982 to protect endangered native fish and water. Numbers of hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and bats also live there.
Since companies hired by Customs and Border Protection began building the new section of the wall here in October, environmentalists estimate that millions of gallons of water have been used to mix cement and spray dirt roads.
Solar energy pumps water into a pond under old poplars. Frogs croak and Yaqui guatopotes meander through a reservoir of water that was once fed by natural artesian wells that received water from an aquifer.
A 5-kilometer (3-mile) barrier blocked an animal migration corridor between Mexico’s Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains, threatening species such as the chiricahua leopard frog and the blue and gray plumed falcon.
The Trump administration says it has completed walls along 692 kilometers (430 miles) and will have completed another 33 kilometers (20 miles) by the end of the year.
Those close to Biden say that he intends to fulfill his promise to “not build another meter” of walls. But it is not clear how it will stop the works or if it will leave them half finished, assuming the costs of breaking the signed contracts and the discomfort it would generate among those who think that the wall is vital for border security.
“A wall will do little to stop criminals and (drug) cartels crossing the border,” Biden’s team said. The president-elect has said that he will focus on “smart measures, such as improving infrastructure to detect illegal crossings at our ports of entry, which will make the country safer.”
The environmentalists hope to find an ally in Alejandro Mayorkas, appointed by Biden to head the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection.
Until the works are suspended, “every day there will be another mile of destroyed land on the border,” Serraglio said.
Environmental lawyer Dinah Bear said the Biden administration could suspend the contracts. Although the contracts are not public, the compensation that would have to be paid to the companies, he pointed out, would be much less than what would have to be invested to complete and maintain the works, which are being financed with funds from the appropriate military under the protection of a decree by which Trump declared a national emergency.
Bear, who served on the White House Council on Environmental Quality under both Republican and Democratic administrations, says Congress should allocate money to repair damage caused by the walls.