A Texas state park could be forced to close as a result of President Donald Trump’s long-touted wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Scientists and environmentalists have repeatedly warned that the wall will prove detrimental to wildlife and biodiversity.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWPD) informed the U.S. Border Patrol in a letter sent Friday that the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park could close as a result of the wall, which would run through the park. The area is one of the top bird-watching destinations in the country and beloved by nature enthusiasts.
According to the Texas Tribune, TWPD Executive Director Carter Smith warned the Border Patrol’s Texas real estate and environmental head Paul Enriquez that going forward with the wall would put the park at risk of closure.
Sent in response to a request from Border Patrol asking state parks to weigh in on wall construction plans within 30 days, the letter emphasized what parks officials have stated previously: that the wall would pose a threat to wildlife, potentially devastating delicate natural spaces.
Smith attached an October 2017 memo to the letter, which found that the wall would deter visitors and “likely discontinue overnight camping and nighttime wildlife viewing.”
Moreover, the memo notes, the presence of the wall “would certainly call into question whether TPWD could continue to safely operate the property as a state park, and thereby possibly causing the site to revert back to the original Grantors’ heirs.” The land was sold by the heirs to the state on the condition that it be used “solely for public park purposes.”
Located in southern Texas near the city of Mission and around an hour from the larger hub of Brownsville, the park serves as the headquarters for the World Birding Center. Birdwatching and butterfly watching are major draws, but tens of thousands of people visit the park annually, where they also take advantage of opportunities to hike, camp, picnic, and cycle.
Smith told the Tribune that the wall would “bifurcate the park, meaning the headquarters and visitors center would be north of the border wall and the entire remainder of the park that the public uses would be on the south side of the wall.”
While he cautioned that it was too soon to know anything for sure, Smith said park officials have pushed Border Patrol to consider other options. Ideally, the official said, there would be no structure at all and the government could instead invest in additional security and other non-physical alternatives.
Environmentalists and wildlife experts have long sounded the alarm on the president’s planned border wall. The Trump administration, however, has waived numerous environmental rules in order to press forward with building the wall, despite widespread concern.
According to an April report released by the nonprofit group Defenders of Wildlife, the wall poses an extreme threat to human communities and habitats in addition to wildlife and conservation more broadly. That report specifically highlights five conservation hot-spot areas along the border, including the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is located.
Bryan Bird, who works with Defenders of Wildlife and directs the organization’s Southwest program, told ThinkProgress via email on Tuesday that the Rio Grande Valley is home to a thriving economy, where areas like Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park play a crucial role.
“The border wall will have irreversible impacts on the wildlife and public parks established here,” said Bird. “As Congress considers funding the divisive wall, it must carefully weigh the negative consequences.”
A new scientific paper released last week found that the environmental impact of the wall could be devastating for biodiversity. More than 2,500 scientists from 43 countries signed onto that assessment, asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct numerous pre-planning surveys to identify sensitive areas at risk before constructing the wall.
“We urge the U.S. government to recognize and give high priority to conserving the ecological, economic, political, and cultural value of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands,” the paper’s signatories emphasized. “National security can and must be pursued with an approach that preserves our natural heritage.”
Outcry over border wall construction has already protected one area. The Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge is home to at least 400 species of birds and 450 plant species, in addition to half of the butterfly species found across the continent. Environmental advocates argued that the border wall would virtually destroy the delicate area, ultimately sparking Congress to spare the wildlife refuge even as it approved funds intended for wall-building efforts elsewhere along the border.
The refuge’s protection is a unique case, one that has come at the expense of other areas. As a compromise to protect the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Congress allowed for barriers to be built around the refuge, which in turn threaten areas like the National Butterfly Center, which neighbors the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
Based on current plans, 33 miles worth of barriers will run around the refuge, creating some 6,500 acres of “no man’s land”, which will only exacerbate the environmental impacts posed by the wall. Experts have said that in addition to cutting off people from nature, when the Rio Grande floods, wildlife will be trapped.