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Environmentalists say wall plan poses threat to Arizona wildlife, waterways

The fence marking the U.S.-Mexico border is seen at sunset on July 22, 2018 in Nogales, Arizona. At left are seen security cameras mounted over the Mexican side of the border. President Trump has proposed replacing the fence with a wall. (Getty Images Photo/John Moore)

PHOENIX – Environmental groups fear a plan to beef up border barriers in southern Arizona would do irreparable harm to wildlife and waterways in the area.

On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a call for public input about a proposal to replace approximately 63 miles of existing fencing and vehicle barriers with new bollard wall.

The proposal addresses multiple sections of barrier, including parts of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Pima County and San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in Cochise County.

According to the Sierra Club, the existing barriers in the proposed areas don’t impede the flow of wildlife and water.

The new wall would be made of concrete-filled steel bollards that are 18-30 feet high and 6 feet in diameter.

The Sierra Club says that design would keep all animals more than 6 inches wide from passing through.

“Animals have been migrating across the continent for tens of thousands of years,” Myles Traphagen, coordinator of the Wildlands Network’s borderlands program, said Wednesday.

“If these walls are built, it will change the evolutionary history of North America.”

In addition to the larger barriers, the proposed project includes road construction work and the installation of lighting and other detection technology.

The proposal is seen by environmentalists a threat to endangered species such as the Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican gray wolf and jaguar.

“With a warming and drying climate rapidly accelerating in the Southwest, wildlife need more opportunities, not less, to move in search of their life-cycle requirements,” said Juan Carlos Bravo, Wildlands Network’s Mexico program director.

“For over 20 years, jaguars have been re-colonizing the U.S. from Mexico. Building a border wall in these crucial wildlife corridors will put an end to this natural process.”

There are also concerns that the wall would impede the San Pedro River, one of two major rivers that flow from Mexico into the United States.

“Walls don’t solve problems,” Dan Millis of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Borderlands Program said in a press release.

“They cause flooding and sabotage wildlife protection efforts.”

In February, as part of President Donald Trump’s border emergency declaration, the Department of Homeland Security requested Department of Defense assistance for multiple barrier projects in areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas considered drug-smuggling corridors.

The Pentagon authorized up to $1 billion for border wall projects in March. Last month, DHS issued waivers to environmental laws to build and replace 11 miles of barriers near Yuma and 46 miles in New Mexico.

The projects for which Customs and Border Protection is seeking comment were on the February list of DHS requests.

On Wednesday, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan testified before the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee about transferring Pentagon funds for wall construction. He said there was enough funding to build about 256 miles of barrier. Without specifying where, he said about 63 miles would go up in the next six months.

Trump’s attempts to use defense funds to build border barriers have faced opposition in Congress as well as legal challenges.

Among them is a lawsuit filed in February by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity that accuses the president of overstepping his Constitutional powers by appropriating funds without Congressional approval.

“Trump is stooping to a dangerous new low of lawlessness to build his despicable wall,” said Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner for the organization.

“These plans to bulldoze national monuments, wildlife refuges and wilderness lands should enrage all Arizonans.”

Customs and Border Protection will accept public input until July 5. Comments and questions can be emailed to commentsenv@cbp.dhs.gov with “Pima and Cochise Counties Border Infrastructure Projects” in the title.

The department said it is also doing environmental impact studies and collecting information from state and local governments, federal agencies, Native American tribes and landowners who might be impacted.

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