Fence Seen As Peril To Animal Pathways Along Border

Fence seen as peril to animal pathways along border

By Sandra Dibble
May 5, 2007

TIJUANA U.S. plans to expand and fortify fencing along the southwest border will harm animal species and key ecosystems shared by the United States and Mexico, scholars and environmentalists from both countries said yesterday.

The beefed-up barricades will cut off natural cross-border corridors for endangered species, such as the jaguar, black bear and puma, according to participants of a two-day meeting in Tijuana held at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, or COLEF, a Mexican government think tank.

There will be a barrier dividing what is actually a continuum of ecosystems, said Rurik List, a conservation biologist at the Mexican National Autonomous University, or UNAM.

Animals that now can pass beneath or above the fence won't be able to pass from one side to another, he said.

Close to 60 specialists attended the conference, organized by COLEF and Mexico's National Institute of Ecology. Participants said it's an important effort to begin documenting what would be the effects of the fencing.

We want to go from generalities about the environmental impact of the wall to specifics, which species, in which ecosystems, said Carlos de la Parra, COLEF's secretary general.

Participants hope their findings will lead to more knowledgeable discussion about the border fence. They plan to present the findings to Mexico's Environmental Ministry, or Semarnat.

The idea is to generate technical information for decision-making on environmental issues, both for society in general and for Semarnat, said Ana Cordova of the National Institute of Ecology.

If we can get the debate about real facts, real lengths of fence, real impacts, real mechanisms for negotiation, then we can find some happy ground in the middle, said Rick Van Schoik of the Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy at San Diego State.

Congress last year approved the Secure Fence Act. Its measures include hundreds of miles of additional fencing, as well as more lighting, vehicle barriers and checkpoints to prevent illegal immigration.

Participants said the efforts to increase security will cut off critical wildlife pathways. They also will harm plant life in border regions by prompting the spread of invasive species as patrol vehicles inadvertently carry seeds across long distances and the fragmentation of flora, according to a statement prepared by participants.

At the border's western end, fencing already has resulted in erosion and habitat destruction, said Oscar Romo, of the Tijuana River National Estuary Research Reserve.

The other effect that should be considered is what happens when the fence is removed, Romo said.

We know that eventually this wall is going to have to have other negative effects on the environment, he said.

Sandra Dibble: (619) 293-1716; sandra.dibble@uniontrib.com