U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has begun preparations to construct the first leg of the Trump administration’s border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, according to the Texas Observer.
The Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge comprises 2,088-acres along the U.S.-Mexico border, and was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds. The refuge is home to at least 400 species of birds, 450 types of plants, and half of the butterfly species found in North America. It is also home to the highly-endangered ocelot.
Federal officials told the Texas Observer that the wall would consist of an 18-foot levee wall that would stretch for three miles in the wildlife refuge. The construction plan would require building a road south of the wall, as well as clearing land on either side. Such construction would “essentially destroy the refuge,” an official told the Texas Observer.
Congress is still debating funding for the billion-dollar wall, but a federal official told the Texas Observer that funds could be transferred from within the Department of Homeland Security to pay for construction at the refuge. Construction within the refuge could begin as early as winter of 2018.
Officials said that the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge is slated to be the site of the first section of the wall because the government already owns the land, and so won’t have to contend with issues of private ownership. Part of the wall’s $21.6 billion estimated price tag will almost certainly come from the cost of purchasing land along the route from private landowners.
Environmental and conservation groups have expressed opposition to Trump’s proposed wall in the past, arguing that it would block migratory routes and disrupt sensitive ecosystems. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife report from 2016 found that more than 100 animals that are listed as endangered, threatened, or candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act could be affected by the border wall.
Climate activists have also argued construction of the wall will create greenhouse gas emissions, since concrete — from which the wall is set to be built — is incredibly carbon-intensive to manufacture. And, if constructed, the wall is likely to face threats of flooding from the Rio Grande, which are likely to become more pronounced with climate change.
Trump has suggested covering the wall with solar panels, though energy experts note that the wall would not be ideally situated for such use, as it is far from both transmission lines and the majority of the American population.
The Center for Biological Diversity, along with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), have already sued to stop construction of the wall on the grounds that the administration failed to conduct an environmental impact study. According to the lawsuit, the U.S. government has not conducted a study on how border operations — from patrols to spotlights — impact the environment since 2001.