In January, the heavily debated border wall got one step closer to becoming a reality when President Trump signed an executive order for its immediate construction.
The economic and social implications of the wall inflamed disputes from the beginning of Trump’s campaign, but little publicity has been given to its effect on the border region’s wildlife.
Shawn Crimmins, professor of wildlife ecology, said it’s unlikely a wall of this scope will bode well for wildlife since many species rely on connections with other populations and habitats, which the wall would obstruct.
One such species Crimmins mentioned are jaguars, which are federally endangered in the United States.
Previously, jaguars were thought to be exterminated from the United States due to over-hunting in the 1900s. However, hope for the population has been revived by researchers published in the Journal of Mammalogy, who frequently observed two male jaguars and a possible third individual in Arizona since the early 2000s.
Since they are so few, these jaguars are reliant on the Mexican jaguar population to breed. In fact, Crimmins said that if the proposed wall is constructed jaguars may no longer be expected north of the border.
This could be problematic in the future. Although there are few jaguars in the United States now, a report in the Journal of Mammology indicates that this borderline habitat could become increasingly important to the species.
This is because Mexican jaguars are threatened by habitat loss and hunting, while in the United States, they would have access to ample public land and federal protection. Furthermore, the report suggests that as climate change causes more harsh conditions, the northern most part of the Jaguars’ range, which includes Arizona and New Mexico, could become crucial for the species’ survival.
A variety of other species could also be driven north to compensate for a changing climate and a wall would impede this transition, making it more difficult for organisms to adapt to a changing world.
Although many endangered species in the region are the most threatened by disturbances, a wall could affect a wider range of animals.
Robert Lonsinger, professor of wildlife ecology who spent much of his career in the Southwest, said that even plentiful populations are at risk.
Longsinger said that by severing the connections between populations, “you ultimately reduce genetic diversity related to fitness and disease. Over time, we could be making those animals more susceptible to disease and population decline.”
On the other hand, Crimmins said that it is difficult to project the impact the wall would have since there has not been a barrier of this scope since perhaps the Great Wall of China.
However, the wall could potentially cause the loss of a keystone species in which case Crimmins said, “We could see a cascading effect of species loss and loss of biodiversity.”
Although the 650 miles of fencing currently in place along the 1,900-mile border already fragments the wildlife population, Trump’s proposal will likely be far more devastating for animals. This is because he plans to create a wall rather than a fence, which would be much higher, making it virtually impossible for any animal without wings to pass.
The zone’s wildlife are made more vulnerable by a 2005 act, which allows the Department of Homeland Security to ignore federal regulations like the Endangered Species Act when constructing a border wall. This gives little incentive for the wall to be constructed in an eco-friendly manner.
Both professors doubted what could be done to lessen the wall’s impacts on wildlife, since passages which would allow for the flow of wildlife could ultimately be utilized by undocumented immigrants, thus compromising the wall’s purpose.