Protecting the Flow of Life Across the Borderlands

— by Susan Eirich, Hope McKenzie, Chelsea Carson —

“For thousands of years animals have migrated in a rhythm as primal as a heartbeat, followed by their human and animal hunters.”* Disturbing these vital ancient patterns; cutting two continents in half for the sake of temporary political expediency, will cause permanent species loss, habitat damage, and immeasurable suffering for wildlife. With the construction of an eighteen-foot steel and concrete wall along the United States and Mexico border nearly a thousand species, many already endangered and under great stress, will no longer be able to follow ancient traditions of migration, mating, hunting and foraging, critical to their survival. Passed on through the generations, once lost, the memories of where to migrate are gone forever. (Read Migration Memories).

Water also flows across the border, and many of the water washes and sheds will be dammed or diverted from their natural flows by the wall, resulting in flooding, erosion and a significant loss of water sources in a land that is already barren and parched. All told the cost of this wall is immeasurable in terms of survival of species, and the suffering of countless individual animals and animal families. It is already hard enough for them to survive. There has to be another way.

The starting point for the wall is the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which follows the verdant banks of the Rio Grande and traces the border between the United States and Mexico. It sits at the convergence of two major migratory routes for a wide variety of bird species, many of whom begin their journey in the southernmost reaches of South America. This 2,088 acre parcel of land is also home to endangered ocelots and jaguarondi, over 300 butterfly species, coyotes, bobcats, tortoise, snakes, lizards, migrating birds, and nine-banded armadillos—to name just a few. Across this small stamp of land, the foundation for a wall is being prepared: soil samples tested, plans drawn to clear land, roads and bridges engineered, surveillance stations and light towers installed. This is where the digging for the wall will begin.

All government agencies are required to perform an environmental impact assessment before building on public lands, but on August 1st the Trump Administration announced that any environmental regulations which would threaten the first phase of construction will be waived. (Read OGD Restore Habitat, Restore Flow) In Washington there is little talk of the impact it will have on wildlife.  A small group of Democratic congressmen from Texas have written to the Department of Homeland Security,  asking if the wall will comply with the laws in place to regulate endangered species and water use. They are still awaiting an answer.

So it is up to us.

Monarch Butterfly  |  Stock Photo

Outside Washington people are mobilizing. Environmental organizations, political campaigns, faith based assemblies and individuals are acting to protect the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the entirety of the US-Mexico border. Lawsuits are being filed in effort to halt construction; more and more organizations are releasing environmental impact statements. The Wildlands Network has launched a Borderlands Campaign focused on preserving safe migration routes and habitat through the Sky Islands region of northern Mexico and southwestern U.S.; they are also working to identify and protect habitat corridors on both sides of the border in order to facilitate the construction of wildlife crossing structures.  The Sierra Club has also launched the #NoWall Coalition, a growing group of organizations in opposition to the wall.  A Border Wall Issue Tool Kit can be found here. The Center for Biological Diversity has just organized a march along the border for the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. Numerous other entities are also banding to fight the wall: border communities, indigenous groups, and private citizens along both sides of the border.

Seeking and supporting these and other organizations, staying well-informed, and becoming active in our local governments and communities can help prevent the enormous potential damage and pain before it is too late. (Read One Good Deed: Protecting Wildlife Corridors). The wall is not inevitable; at the moment, it is nothing more than elaborate schematics and ambitious blueprints. It needs funding and belief to happen, and these are things with which we can work.

The beliefs that this wall are based on are not grounded in the realities of how nature works.  Our short-sighted and fear-based thinking didn’t matter as much when we didn’t have so much power to impact the earth with our modern massive destructive construction abilities. We couldn’t have cut two continents in half. Now, we can. The repercussions of constructing a 1,900 mile-long stretch of border wall are immeasurable. But it is just an example of a much larger pattern in which we have increasing power to destroy the natural systems that sustain us and all Life.  We urgently need to change our current thinking, which is limited by our biological hard-wiring for self-esteem, territoriality and immediate gain. We need to (and can) move to our capacity for higher level thinking where we see larger patterns; take in more information and perspectives before reaching a conclusion, and explore creative alternatives that take into consideration the well-being of all life.

It is possible to stop the Wall. But we are using all of our resources to fight against one crisis after another based on limited and defective thinking. We have to change how we think; to use more of our amazing brain capacities to imagine solutions.  And we are beginning to.  One example is the growing movement of mindfulness, which helps counter knee-jerk reactions. We can hope for courageous and wise leaders, find them and elect them.  But for now we have to stop the wall. It is up to us to speak for and help Life that has no voice and is essentially at our mercy.

Tree of Life  |  Photo by Earthfire

“For thousands of years animals have migrated in a rhythm as primal as a heartbeat, followed by their human and animal hunters.” To disturb these critical ancient patterns, cutting two continents in half for the purpose of a temporary misguided political crusade is to lose our own heritage and memories, as we are part of the Earth. There is little as stirring as the cry of the geese as they take off for their incredible journeys, or the great migrations of the African plains.

There may be a plus side to all this. Because the repercussions of this 1900 mile wall are so great it may help awaken us to the importance of preserving the flow of Life around the world and contribute to a paradigm shift in how we protect our wild lands. There is little as effective in accomplishing this as preserving wildlife migration corridors.

*From Migration Memories by Susan Eirich

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

Hope McKenzie is a writer and an advocate for the preservation of wildlife and wild lands.  She is working with Earthfire Institute to help create a sustainable future for all living beings.

Chelsea Carson, a graduate student at Idaho State University, is a volunteer at Earthfire Institute. She is helping to build education and outreach capacity with the goal to increase environmental stewardship and community service. 

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