Have you ever crossed a national boundary and realized that wildlife had crossed the very same line? We’ve frequently seen the evidence of such crossings, as both of us have lived and worked close to the international boundary with Mexico for much of the last four decades. From endangered pronghorn antelope to lesser long-nosed bats, rufous hummingbirds and monarch butterflies, itinerant species that routinely cross the border have thrilled us with their stunning presence.
These creatures and many others have long traveled migration routes that span hundreds or even thousands of miles. They deserve not only our respect but also our assistance in guaranteeing their safe passage.
But their safe passage is not assured these days, because of the recent deployment of National Guard troops and talk of a trumped-up wall at the border. We recognize that public rancor and political debate are resetting the fate of both human “Dreamers,” those young people who are not yet citizens, and migrating wildlife. Our sympathies are with the Dreamers, and we also know that border security can be achieved without further impact on border wildlife.
Recently, some Westerners were surprised to learn of one conservation initiative that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was wise enough to support: the restoration of some trans-boundary wildlife corridors. Zinke has expressed interest in partnerships that protect migratory corridors for the large game animals of the Northern Plains of the United States and Canada.
Zinke should also consider the wild animals that migrate across our southern border, and how the proposed Trump wall and the National Guardsmen now being placed there are sure to harm this wildlife. Where we work in Arizona, unimpeded corridors are critical to maintaining viable populations of several of the federally listed mammals that Zinke is charged to protect.
If the Trump wall is ever built, it will unnecessarily fragment trans-boundary wildlife corridors in ways that will profoundly affect pronghorn, bison and two deer species. It would also put at further risk jaguars, Mexican wolves, black bears and ocelots. Even if the wall is not built, we are concerned about the 338 members of the National Guard who are being deployed to the Arizona-Mexico border. That’s nearly one soldier for every mile of our state’s southern line.
Unlike the Border Patrol, the National Guard is not given an in-depth orientation about issues relating to the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act or the American Antiquities Act. The result is that the National Guard is ill-equipped to take on any sensitive issues relating to species and environments unique to the Borderlands. As a result, they are more likely to break laws than to uphold them.
There are effective means to curtail human traffic across the border that do not disrupt wildlife movements. Most residents along the border know this. Zinke is already concerned about safe passage for certain wildlife species, mainly the big game animals that American hunters love to pursue. But bi-national restoration of wildlife corridors on both sides of the United States-Mexico line would sustain even more wildlife and also support much-needed livelihoods.
That’s why our nonprofit Borderlands Restoration Network has begun creating dozens of “green jobs” in these communities. By collaborating with ranchers and others, we are generating livelihoods and fostering strong collaborative efforts, both of which can provide positive deterrents to chaos at the border.
If Zinke’s goals are to benefit wildlife and restore the economy of the rural West, he would do well to learn more about the many success stories in southern Arizona. Wildlife migrations require true collaboration with our neighboring nations, both north and south. We invite Zinke to join us in this important effort.
Dr. H. Ron Pulliam has served as the President of the Ecological Society of America and as Director of the Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan has served under both Republican and Democratic Presidents on the National Park System Advisory Board, and is author of the forthcoming book, Food from the Radical Center: Healing Our Lands and Communities. They were both among the founders of the Borderlands Restoration Network, and live within twenty miles of the Mexican border.