/ Modified jul 20, 2023 1:50 p.m.

Court settlement includes meaningful border wall changes for wildlife

A settlement between the Biden administration and environmental groups stipulates changes to the border wall that are a win for Southern Arizona wildlife, including larger connectivity passages and environmental impact studies.

border lighting Federal officials have installed 500 border lights in the San Bernardino Valley and Wildlife Refuge, according to the Center for Biological Diversity study, though the lights are not currently operational.
Courtesy Russ McSpadden with the Center for Biological Diversity.

A court settlement in a 2019 lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition, the Biden Administration has agreed to create and maintain passages in the border wall for larger mammals to cross.

Emily Burns with the Sky Islands Alliance says that could reestablish species connectivity in some critical wildlife pathways for species like bear, deer, mountain lion, Sonoran desert pronghorn and even jaguar.

“Over time animals do learn where there are successful places for them to move across the landscape, probably over many seasons and even years more species will be able to take advantage of it.,” she says.

Officials have agreed to leave storm gates open in protected areas in Pima and Cochise counties, including the Organ Pipe National Monument, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.

As well, they must maintain specific existing gaps in the border wall and install wildlife passages of about 7 by 5 feet in areas such as the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Perilla Mountains Corridor.

The agreement also stipulates that, consistent with federal environmental laws waived when the wall was built, the government must fund studies assessing the border wall’s impacts on wildlife, including the use of stadium-style lighting.

Burns says returning environmental law to these sections of the border will slow down the pace of construction projects and allow for science-based evaluation of impacts on wildlife and mitigation whenever possible.

“So many of us that want to reestablish connectivity for wildlife would like to see much larger stretches that are unwalled and passable for animals,” she says. “But the fact is we are living with the wall today, so the next best thing we can do is to begin to try reestablishing places where animals can cross and doing it in a way that we learn from it.”

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