UCS Reports Trump Administration Kept Secrets on Border Wall Harms to the Environment

Border wall

Officials from the Department of Interior (DOI) stripped language. Language by federal scientists on a key environmental impacts.  This letter to the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) about the US-Mexico border wall.

The deleted sections came from the  writing of federal biologists and wildlife managers. All from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). They brought up scientifically valid concerns. Concerns about the potential impact of the border wall on endangered species. Those whose populations are along the border.

Why it matters:

Protecting endangered species requires science. Yes indeed, considering science in listing endangered species is legally mandated. Mandates by the Endangered Species Act. So excluding scientific evidence will likely put endangered species at risks of further decline. Worst is against the law. Furthermore, deleting scientific language sets up a dangerous precedent. One that it is all right to silence and censor federal scientists.

Excluding scientists and their work from the policy making process leads to governmental decisions that are not evidence based. Yes folks and therefore less likely to effectively protect the health of the public and our environment.

According to newly released emails obtained by the Washington Post, concerns raised by scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about the potential harms to endangered species of building a border wall excluding from an important document submitted to the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP).

In addition and as well around August 2017, the USCBP asked FWS to give information on how animal species would be affected. Impacted by constructing 60 miles of levee and bollard wall in Hidalgo and Starr counties. That’s Right near the southern tip of Texas. The USCBP only received a truncated version of FWS scientists’ concerns. Officials from the Department of Interior (DOI) removed the scientists’ concerns. Concerns on endangered species’ habitats, flooding risks, and wildfires from the final draft of the letter.

The FWS raised many concerns that dismissing from the document submitted to USCBP. The scientists brought up the border wall’s potential ability to diminish the “habitat connectivity” for the endangered ocelots and jaguarundis.

So a permeant border wall may limit the cats’ access to drinking water.  More noteworthy and increase the risk of inbreeding in the cat populations.  Only  due to an inability for different populations to intermingle. The scientists also said that the border wall could trap the animals “behind the levee wall to drown or starve”. That’s during a flood and they suggested constructing a pathway south of the levee. One to allow the animals the chance to flee during a flood.

Other concerns raised by the scientists included: capping the holes used for fencing posts so that wildlife does not become trapped in the holes, and to warn authorities that they will face difficulties when fighting wildfires in the parts of the US territory that end up south of the wall.

These concerns are largely in line with what scientists outside the federal government say and are the sort of issues that have been before brought by the scientific community.

Water is a limiting factor in the area and animals need to have the freedom to move to water-rich locations to find food and water. At the same time, the area is prone to flooding and the border wall is likely to trap wildlife and heighten the risk of drowning when the Rio Grande floods.

Therefore, the reduction in genetic species diversity due to the US-Mexico border is isolating animal populations. Yes from one another is supported by scientific literature. Furthermore, over 2500 scientists from 43 countries agree. They agree that the US-Mexico border wall is a threat to biodiversity in the region. This threat is likely to be exasperated by suspending important laws in New Mexico and southern Texas. Laws that protect the environment, the wildlife, and the land.

Ocelot species in North America are precariously low. That’s with the FWS estimating only 80 to 100 individuals exist in the region. The identification of one litter of healthy ocelot babies in southern Texas considering a newsworthy event. That’s to the wildlife biologist community.

Cause the jaguarundi is also a highly endangered cat in the region. The jaguarundi are a threatened species in Mexico. However they are so rare in Texas. So much so that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department considers them extinct in the state. That’s though the FWS lists them as endangered with habitat ranges in the southern tip of Texas.

A few of the concerns raised by the FWS scientists in the final letter. One concern focusing on how the border wall would affect the tourism. Tourism to a national wildlife refuge.

Also including in the letter were two concerns raised about the rare wild cat species. Especially about the  amount of brush that these cats need. Brush for traveling will be negatively affected with a wall. Also that nocturnal cat will be disturbed by the lighting. You know folks, on the border wall.

The decision to strip away the scientists’ concerns may guiding by earlier statements. Statements made by DOI Secretary Zinke. Jonathan Andrew, a DOI borderlands coordinator, previously wrote to FWS officials. One correspondence was a March 2017 email. This email said the following statement.  With my little comments to it

The Secretary is indicating we are to support the border security mission. So as to make sure you get any correspondence on this topic cleared. You know, up the food chain.

This is not Secretary Zinke’s first time censoring scientists. As recently detailed by our report about attacks on science at DOI.

Federal scientists must be allowed to speak freely on these issues.  Freely and without the threat of censorship. In addition protecting endangered species requires considering the best available science.

Endangered species risking further decline. Decline when the best available science is not considered. Considering it in decisions that impact their populations. Further and once these species are gone, we cannot bring them back.

This not the first time that the Trump administration has ignored, dismissed, or quieted federal scientists. So much that they are raising scientifically valid concerns.

(So see here, here, here, and here)

In conclusion, without the voices of federal scientists speaking truth to power. So our policies are bound to be less informed. Informing the publicbby the evidence. As well and therefore be less protective of the important animal species. Finally these species also call America its home.

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists