Border Wall Eco Warning

A journal article written by several leading ecologists including the nationally recognized Corvallis researcher, Bill Ripple, warns both the U.S. government and the American people of the catastrophic risks presented to plants, animals and nature by placing a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico.

Last month William J Ripple, PhD of Oregon State University and his colleagues published the paper as a warning to our country to halt and alter construction of Trump’s border wall, explaining that the wall will harm plant and animal species and their habitats that are located along the border and the surrounding area.

“It seems like most of the news about the border wall is about immigration,” says Ripple, “and there is very little news today about ecological aspects of the border wall, so what we’re trying to do is raise awareness about the ecological effects from building fences and walls along the border.”

Eighteen scientists, including Ripple and another scientist from OSU, Christopher Wolf, conducted a study to survey ecological risks, and found that placing a continuous wall along the borderline would harm the 1,506 animal and plant species living in the area by cutting off the species’ ability to migrate, harming the habitats that they depend on to survive, and fragmenting important populations. Of those species, 62 are already listed as threatened with extinction, says Ripple.

The article also explains in depth how the construction of Trump’s wall does not follow national environmental laws, and details the ways in which construction would devalue efforts for environmental conservation that, until now, the United States and Mexico have worked on together.

The paper, titled Nature Divided, Scientists United: US–Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biodiversity and Binational Conservation was published on July 24 in BioScience Journal, which belongs to the American Institute of Biological Sciences. The study was led by Robert Peters, the Senior Southwest Representative of a large environmental conservation group called The Defenders of Wildlife. 

Bill Ripple
William Ripple is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology at OSU in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. He was born and raised in South Dakota and got his Master’s degree at the University of Idaho. He then moved to Corvallis, attended grad school, and received his PhD from OSU, where he soon got a faculty job and has now worked for over 30 years. 

A year before working on Nature Divided, Scientists United, Ripple led a similar study which resulted in a different article published in BioScience on November 13, 2017. The study was titled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. Much of Nature Divided was patterned after this earlier article, says Ripple.

Warning to Humanity was endorsed by over 15,000 scientists around the world and urged humankind to prevent widespread, catastrophic environmental destruction created by humans. 

“For people that (sic) are concerned about the environment, we now have a website for non-scientists to sign and endorse our World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” Ripple says. 

Ripple is involved with several national and international groups of scientists who are all dedicated to preserving ecology around the world, including The Alliance of World Scientists and The Defenders of Wildlife, the latter of which boasts over a million members.

Nature Divided: The Dangers of the Border Wall
Nature Divided, which was endorsed by over 2,500 scientist signatories, explains that over 1,500 native animal and plant species live on both sides of the border, making them residents of both the U.S. and Mexico.

By 2017, the Department of Homeland Security had in 10 years already constructed just over 652 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers along the border. Those barriers, the article explains, are serviced by nearly 5,000 miles of roads as well as thousands of miles of off-road routes created by patrol vehicles. 

The group of scientists discovered that these existing barriers and the additional planned barriers along the nearly 2,000-mile US-Mexico border could have a staggering affect on the environment in that area due to the fact that it would bisect the geographic ranges of 1,077 animal and 429 plant species.

The list of animals that will be affected includes several charismatic species widely appreciated by humans, including the Mexican Gray Wolf, Sonoran Pronghorn, Peninsula Bighorn Sheep, as well as jaguars and ocelots, says Ripple. Not only will animals not be able to cross a physical barrier once separated from the rest of their population, they’ll be negatively affected by the human activity and additional barriers, roads, and other structures associated with the border wall. 

The associated infrastructure will also eliminate and degrade natural vegetation that many animals depend on to survive. The effect of physical barriers will be devastating for the animal species, which, according to the paper, will be prevented and discouraged from accessing food, water, mates and other critical resources. 

Protective Laws & Research Ignored
Ripple and the other scientists also want to raise awareness about the fact that the U.S. government has failed to follow many of its own environmental laws. 

“There’s currently a law on the books that allows the DHS to bypass two major environmental laws in building the border wall and we would like to see those environmental laws…used as they were intended,” he says.

In 2005, says Ripple and his colleagues, the U.S. Congress passed the “Real ID Act” that gave the DHS authority to waive any laws slowing the wall’s construction.

“One of them is the National Environmental Policy Act and another is the Endangered Species Act,” Ripple says.

The article also explains how a border wall would “devalue conservation investment and scientific research,” by destroying or damaging tens of thousands of square miles in areas that have been set aside as protected land. This would come at a cost of millions of dollars to conservation efforts of the U.S. and Mexican governments, tribes, nongovernmental organizations and private landowners. All of whom have been dedicated for many years to protecting the fragile, unique ecosystems in those areas. 

Ripple urges mitigation for habitat loss, which would mean restoring similar habitats to ones that have been destroyed in a different place.

How to Help
Bill Ripple urges the public to read and endorse the article themselves, and says that you don’t need to be a scientist yourself to do so.

To read Nature Divided, Scientists United: US-Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biodiversity and Binational Conservation please visit https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biy063/5057517. 

To endorse the article as a non-scientist supporter, visit https://defenders.org/border-wall-report/sign.

 

By Kiki Genoa

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