Conservation Groups Ask Federal Government to Consider Border Fence's Overall Impact to Wildlife, Public Lands in Arizona

(10/01/2007) -

WASHINGTON – The government needs to look at the overall impacts of building walls along Arizona’s border before constructing additional segments, according to a formal appeal filed today by two national conservation groups. The joint appeal to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of the Interior asks that the government prohibit construction of a border wall within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (NCA) until it can comprehensively assess the environmental impacts on wildlife and protected federal lands in Arizona.

“The San Pedro National Conservation Area is an irreplaceable national treasure. Putting a fence right through the middle of it will rob America of one of its most important wildlife areas, but it won’t make America any safer,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. “The decision to build a wall in this unique area points out the absurdity of the government’s ill-conceived approach to securing America’s borders. Meanwhile, the government isn't even considering the cumulative impacts of these wall segments on wildlife and habitat. They haven’t taken a step back to look at the whole picture—and right now that picture looks bleak.”

The appeal by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club challenges the short-sighted decision to build a wall through the San Pedro NCA, which is one of the American Southwest’s most unique and biologically diverse areas. The San Pedro region has been designated as a World Heritage Natural Area by the United Nations World Heritage program. Some 250 species of migratory birds have been recorded in the area, which led to its designation as a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, and the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation. The San Pedro River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the United States, and its natural beauty and diverse wildlife attract visitors from around the globe.

The appeal specifically challenges a BLM decision that permits construction of a wall and a new road within the San Pedro Riparian NCA. According to the BLM, the proposed fencing across the desert arroyos that feed the San Pedro River would cause erosion, sediment build-up and possibly even shift the entire riverbed. These changes could be disastrous for the cottonwood-willow woodlands and the wildlife that depend on this habitat. Construction of the wall could also physically isolate numerous wildlife species in Arizona that have populations in Mexico, including jaguar, ocelot, coati, gray and kit fox, badger, black bear, ringtail cat and unique subspecies of deer and squirrel.

The San Pedro wall is just one of six wall segments proposed since the beginning of the year along Arizona’s border with Mexico, including the San Pedro River, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Buenos Aires National Monument. At least two of these segments are already under construction. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies are required to consider alternatives and review the cumulative environmental impacts of different federal actions that are occurring at the same time in the same area. Such comprehensive assessments are necessary to determine how best to minimize the impacts of border security measures on wildlife, wildlands and border communities.

On September 24, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would complete comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements concerning the cumulative impacts of planned border fence construction along much of the Texas border with Mexico. In Arizona, however, where construction on some segments of the fence has already begun, no such effort has been made.

“It’s an encouraging step in the right direction that the government has agreed to do a comprehensive assessment in Texas, but Arizona is the place where bulldozers are tearing up the borderland as we speak,” said Sean Sullivan, executive committee member for the Sierra Club Rincon (Southern Arizona) group. “Arizona’s border wall is already under construction in certain places, and the government has a responsibility to make sure its actions are thoroughly examined before it starts any new projects, especially in areas as sensitive as the San Pedro.”

###

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 900,000 members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

The Sierra Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Inspired by nature, the Sierra Club’s 1.3 million members and supporters, including the 14,000 members of Arizona’s Grand Canyon Chapter, work together to protect our communities and the planet. www.sierraclub.org

###

Contact(s):

Joe Vickless, Defenders of Wildlife, (202)772-0237
Sean Sullivan, The Sierra Club, (520)250-9040