Sunday, October 1, 2023

Trump’s border wall has caused massive cultural and environmental damage, the watchdog said

A new report details the “disastrous” consequences of Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the US-Mexico border.

Former President Donald Trump’s construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border has desecrated indigenous cultural sites, harmed wildlife, destroyed vegetation, dried up vital water resources, exacerbated the risk of flooding and causing erosion that has left mountain slopes “unstable and at risk of collapse”, according to a new report.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan government watchdog, reviewed federal data and interviewed government officials, Native American tribes and stakeholders for two years. The result is a comprehensive look at the widespread cultural and environmental damage, which most experts predict, from Trump’s relentless pursuit of what he calls a “big, beautiful wall” along the southern border. in the United States.

The Trump administration has spent an estimated $15 billion building more than 400 miles of border wall, much of it replacing smaller barriers. He left many laws of nature along the way. Trump insisted during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the construction, but Mexico never paid a cent.

Laiken Jordahl, a conservation advocate at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity that documents environmental damage at the border, told HuffPost that the report “confirms all of our worst fears about the damage caused by construction.” on the wall.” ” of wildlife, public lands and cultural resources.

Among other things, building the wall destroys wildlife habitats, cuts species migration routes, and destroys ancient cacti and other native plants.

“These border walls have done nothing to address immigration or smuggling, but they have pushed endangered species closer to extinction, massacred thousands of iconic saguaro cacti, and detonated sacred sites and cemeteries. indigenous,” said Jordahl. “This is a clear warning that any attempt to build more miles of border walls will be horribly destructive and pointless nonsense.”

The federal audit largely follows a federal judge ordering Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday to remove floating buoys from the Rio Grande, a barrier that, like Trump’s wall, is intended to keep out illegal immigrants. which raises strikingly similar environmental concerns and humanitarian concerns.

Citing information gathered from several unnamed federal and tribal officials, the GAO concluded that Trump’s wall would negatively impact cultural and natural resources.

“From the beginning, President Trump’s border wall has been nothing more than a symbolic message of hate, intended to denigrate migrants and reinforce MAGA’s extreme rhetoric,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who in 2021 asked the GAO to investigate the environmental effects of the wall, in a statement responding to the report. “This racist political stunt is an ineffective waste of billions of American taxpayer dollars, and we now know it has also caused immeasurable and irreversible damage to our environment and cultural heritage.”

At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in southern Arizona that is home to many endangered species, contractors are bulldozing and blasting the ground to widen an existing patrol road. The work damaged parts of Monument Hill, which is home to cultural and burial sites sacred to the Tohono O’odham and other Native American tribes.

In nearby Fuentes de Quitobaquito, an oasis in the Sonoran Desert that is sacred to the Tohono O’odham people, tribal leaders told the GAO that contractors had cleared a large area and destroyed a grave that I hope to protect the tribal nation.

“Tribal and agency officials and four out of five stakeholders we interviewed told us that some projects have caused significant damage and destruction to cultural resources, including historic sites and places sacred to tribes,” the report said. “Officials of the Tohono O’odham Nation explain that damage and destruction to such sites is often irreparable because it disrupts or ends rituals that are respected or cherished by specific cultural groups.”

Construction has severely affected water resources. In the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, an artisanal well “no longer flows naturally to the surface” and “now requires mechanical pumps to maintain water pressure,” the report said, citing information that gathered from an interested party. “Additionally, some ponds in the refuge are now without water, making it difficult to maintain water levels in other ponds that hold threatened and endangered fish species,” it read.

Officials of the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management have highlighted the increased risk of flooding in some areas, as newly constructed roads obstruct the natural flow of water.

Perhaps the greatest environmental impact of the wall is on the animals and plants along the border.

As the report details, the barriers restrict the movement of many species, including the endangered Sonoran pronghorn and the Mexican gray wolf. In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, high border fences have “broken endangered ocelot habitat” and “cut off animal travel routes across the border,” consequences that a joint agreement between US Fish and Wildlife and US Customs and Border Protection found that they “raise the risks of extinction of the ocelot in the United States.” “said the GAO report.

One of the most dramatic scenes to occur along the border during the Trump administration is the cutting down of ancient, protected saguaro cacti by construction workers, a cleanup effort that the report said allowed the invasive species that gain a foothold. Pictures from the time show giant, spiky cacti toppled and branches thrown to the side of dirt roads.

The Tohono O’odham Nation sees the destruction as a cultural attack, as well as an environmental one.

“Tohono O’odham Nation officials explained that the saguaro is important to the O’odham culture and way of life, as the saguaro provides an important source of fruit and is a sacred plant that should be given the highest respect, as a relative,” the report said. saying.

Then there is “significant erosion” that comes from contractors cutting through remote mountains and building roads and construction sites. The steep slopes are left “unstable and at risk of collapse” and the “incomplete erosion control measures along the barrier and patrol roads threaten the integrity of the barrier system itself,” according to report.

In Arizona’s Pajarito Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, clearing vegetation for a staging area is causing soil erosion. A Forest Service official told the GAO that the entire mountain is in danger of collapsing.

Jordahl called the GAO’s findings “very damning.”

“The description of the damage to sacred sites and cemeteries is mind-boggling,” he said via email. “The prospect of building the wall permanently damaging the artesian well system that feeds the spring habitats that support endangered species in the San Bernardino National Wildlife (R) refuge is frightening. Ultimately, it could lead to the extinction of endemic species living there. Reports of severe erosion concerns are also sobering.”

The report, he said, “shows the dire need for mitigation and restoration, and ultimately the need to destroy the wall where it blocks important migration routes for endangered species such as jaguars, ocelots and Sonoran pronghorns.”

In GAO interviews, officials from CBP and other agencies blamed some of the negative effects of President Joe Biden’s 2021 proclamation halting construction of the border wall, which they said prevented work on installation of road culverts and revegetation of clear areas.

The report said that CBP and the Department of the Interior accepted the GAO’s recommendations, including working together on a strategy to reduce the effects of the border wall.

The Interior Department declined to comment on the findings. CBP pointed HuffPost to the report, which included the agency’s response that it agreed with the GAO’s recommendations.

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