The Trump administration has already started tearing down trees and leveling ground to erect tall border fencing in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge are next, The Associated Press reports. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security again waived dozens of environmental and other federal laws to allow barrier construction along stretches of U.S.-Mexico border in California and Arizona.
DHS was vague about its plans, but the Center for Biological Diversity says the administration plans to build or replace 100 miles of fencing in Arizona and California, including through the two public lands. "The Trump administration just ignored bedrock environmental and public health laws to plow a disastrous border wall through protected, spectacular wildlands," the center's Laiken Jordahl tells AP.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, established in 1937, encompasses 516 square miles filled with its unique namesake cactus. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1975 on land set aside in 1939, is home to 275 wildlife species. DHS, using redirected Pentagon funds, will replace waist-high bollard fences meant to stop vehicles with fences 18-30 feet high, AP reports. "The government will also build new roads and lighting in those areas in Arizona."
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Organ Pipe Cactus was once a heavy corridor for drug smuggling, and much of the park was closed to visitors from 2002 to 2015, when "the National Park Service and Border Patrol conceived a plan to allow continued surveillance by the Patrol while Park Service crews erased hundreds of miles of illegal roads and road traces that had been woven through Organ Pipe Cactus," National Park Traveler reports. The waist-high fencing, put up in the mid-2000s, "succeeded in ending illegal vehicular border crossings while allowing wildlife to pass through." Environmental groups say the new fencing will further endanger vulnerable species, including jaguars and the Sonoran pronghorn.
DHS is accepting public comment on the plan through July 5.
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