Friends Statement on the Proposed Border Wall at Santa Ana NWR
The Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (FLANWR) is opposed to the proposed 18 foot high and 3-mile long border wall through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (SANWR), located approximately 7 miles south of Alamo and 50 miles west of LANWR. Since 1997, our mission has been to support and enhance the wildlife conservation endeavors of the refuge. We believe that the ecological and social impacts from construction of this proposed border wall segment have the potential to negatively affect Santa Ana NWR and the surrounding communities, including the Laguna Atascosa NWR.
The border the U.S. shares with Mexico is about 2,000 miles long. A border wall of different types of fence segments currently totals about 670 miles. Customs and Border Protection spent $2.4 billion completing these 670 mile segments from 2006 to 2009, an average of over $3.5 million per mile. Proposed border wall construction on the levee directly behind the Santa Ana visitor center and maintenance facilities could block refuge staff, visitors and many wildlife species from access to the majority of the 2,088 acre refuge along the Rio Grande River, including birding/nature trails, observation tower and the canopy walk. Santa Ana NWR is one of the top bird-watching destinations in the U.S., hosting more than 400 species of birds. Known as the “crown jewel” of the National Wildlife Refuge system, the Santa Ana NWR attracts an estimated 160,000 visitors per year1 and contributes substantially to the $463 million annual ecotourism economy in the Rio Grande Valley. For most out of town visitors,
the Santa Ana Refuge is one of the primary reasons for visiting the Valley. Therefore, reduced visitation at the Santa Ana NWR translates to decreased ecotourism in the Valley, which will affect other natural areas, including the Laguna Atascosa NWR.
Ecologically, Santa Ana NWR provides habitat for a myriad of subtropical riparian species of plants and animals. Historically, it was inhabited by federally listed species like the endangered jaguarundi and ocelot, and today is essential for efforts underway to recover the U.S. ocelot population. Ocelot conservation and management is one of the highest priorities for the Laguna Atascosa NWR, and maintaining a natural, barrier free river corridor is essential to connect U.S. and Mexico ocelot populations in order to increase genetic diversity. The hasty decision to construct a segment of the border wall through Santa Ana NWR is predicated on the fact that it is already U.S. government property, meaning acquisition is not subject to lengthy and costly legal disputes currently or likely involved in acquisition of privately owned border property, which makes up the majority border lands. To fast- track construction, which may begin as early as this November, the Administration is planning to waive standard public input procedures, environmental impact studies, and compliance with all standard procedure environmental laws.
FLANWR contends that before any further construction of any segment of the
border wall begins:
- all immigration reform strategy alternatives be exhaustively examined by legislators
- a complete legislatively approved national immigration reform policy be established
- a complete legislatively approved border wall plan be established if border wall construction is
part of the overall approved immigration reform plan
- all environmental protections and public input processes normally applied to projects of this
nature, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, and the 2008 amendment to the border
wall legislation that required Homeland Security to consult with local stakeholders to
“minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce and quality of life” be upheld and
completed as well
- all pending and potential legal rights to construct any approved border wall plan segment
through private property be resolved as a condition before any construction begins, and
- all funding for the plan be legislatively approved and secured before any construction begins
To do otherwise, and proceed with construction of this proposed 3 mile segment of border wall through Santa Ana NWR, will be ecologically devastating, wastefully expensive, financially impactful to the RGV tourism economy, and make no positive contribution to U.S. immigration reform. It will be an unconscionable and unnecessary overreach of the executive branch leading to nothing more than a ‘mission accomplished’ photo opportunity paraded in front of a wasteful $10+ million backdrop and flaunted as a campaign promise fulfilled!
Please join us and other organizations and individuals in opposition to border wall construction in Santa Ana NWR.