The ecological disaster that is Trump’s border wall

During the campaign, it was easy to scoff at President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful” concrete wall along the US-Mexico border. It sounded, well, preposterous.

But now the prospect of a border wall is quite real. Trump intends to request $4.1 billion over the next two years to build it. The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing proposals for designs that are “physically imposing in height” and “aesthetically pleasing in color.”

There’s a long debate over whether physical barriers on the border actually curb the illicit flow of people and drugs. The Border Patrol, which is backing Trump’s plan, says they’re a “vital tool.” Migration experts say they’re more symbolic than effective.

But what is undeniable is that the 654 miles of walls and fences already on the US-Mexico border have made a mess out of the environment there. They’ve cut off, isolated, and reduced populations of some of the rarest and most amazing animals in North America, like the jaguar and ocelot (also known as the dwarf jaguar). They’ve led to the creation of miles of roads through pristine wilderness areas. They’ve even exacerbated flooding, becoming dams when rivers have overflowed.

And while we don’t yet know exactly what path Trump’s new wall would take, DHS has been eyeing unfenced areas in an East Texas wildlife refuge that conservationists consider some of the most ecologically valuable areas on the border — home to armadillos and bobcats. If a wall were to slice through these ecosystems, it could cause irreversible damage to plants and animals already under serious threat.

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