Conservationists And Public Servants Collaborate In South Texas

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Birders walking under trees draped in Spanish moss in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, Tex. The border wall would traverse the refuge. Credit Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Thanks to Michael Hardy and the New York Times for this coverage of an unwanted, disruptive intruder:

MISSION, Tex. — Last month, Marianna Wright, the executive director of the privately owned National Butterfly Center here, discovered survey stakes on the property marking out a 150-foot-wide swath of land.

Ms. Wright later encountered a work crew cutting down trees and brush along a road through the center. The workers said they had been hired by United States Customs and Border Protection to clear the land.

“You mean my land?” Ms. Wright asked, before kicking them out.

A few days after that encounter, she was visited by a border official who informed her that the crew had a right to be on the land and would be returning — next time accompanied by armed Border Patrol agents.

She said she also learned, for the first time, that a section of the proposed wall on the border with Mexico — and a pair of parallel roads on either side of it — would run through the butterfly center. The wall’s placement would cut off two-thirds of the center’s property, leaving a 70-acre no man’s land between the wall and the Rio Grande.

In response, the center started an online crowdfunding campaign to hire a legal team.

The specter of a border wall has loomed over the Rio Grande Valley since 2006, when President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act authorizing 700 miles of fencing along certain stretches of the southern border. But the election of Donald J. Trump, who made completing the wall a centerpiece of his campaign, has spurred renewed concern about the economic and environmental consequences of such a wall.

Although Congress has yet to provide the money for Mr. Trump’s wall, preparations for its construction are underway. Officials with Customs and Border Protection recently held a meeting in the valley at which they displayed a map of the wall’s proposed route.

A United States-Mexico treaty prohibits building a wall or levee in the Rio Grande floodplain, so the map shows the wall being built well north of the river. But that means it will slice through countless pieces of private property and bisect several major wildlife refuges. When asked about the map, officials emphasized that it was only a proposal, and that the wall’s construction was dependent upon the federal budget for 2018.

But that, as Ms. Wright and others have learned, does not mean that the officials tasked with building the wall cannot start making plans.

Because of the anticipated resistance from private landowners, the first sections of the border wall most likely will be built on federal land. In the valley, that includes the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near the city of Alamo, where officials and contractors have been taking soil samples.

Known as the crown jewel of the national system, the lush, 2,088-acre refuge was established in 1943 and is one of the most popular bird-watching destinations in the country, attracting about 165,000 visitors a year.

The threat to the area’s natural habitats like the birdlands and butterfly haven has prompted letters to members of Congress, lawsuits and protests — the most recent of which was Saturday in this remote South Texas city in the Rio Grande Valley.

The protesters began gathering before dawn at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to demonstrate against President Trump’s proposed border wall…

Read the whole article here.

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