U.S. – Mexico border fence is great for disrupting wildlife migration – little deterrent for illegals and drug runners

The Real ID Act of 2005 set aside all laws that might delay construction of the border wall along Mexico-

The hysteria about illegal immigration might have subsided a bit because an effective policy has finally been devised that works better than the great border wall in keeping illegal, undocumented, or whatever you call them out. It is the endless recession and income redistribution the has come to define the American economy.

Meanwhile, the negative biological consequences have been great, and they were certainly anticipated by the Real ID Act of 2005 and the Secure Fence Act in 2006. These two laws waved all other laws that might hinder the construction of great fence. The laws that are the main casualties are the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Wilderness Act and the Clean Water Act.

This fiasco was anticipated as exhibited by this article in MSNBC back in 2007. Immigration fence seen as dead end for wildlife. Activists fear big cats, tortoises will be cut off from water at Rio Grande . AP. May 21, 2007.

Acorrding to Defenders of Wildlife, these are the imperled species affected by the wall:

Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
California brown pelican
California least tern
Chiricahua leopard frog
Desert tortoise
Elegant trogan
Flat-tailed horned lizard
Huachuca water umbel
Kearny's Bluestar
Least Bell's vireo
Lesser long-nosed bat
Light-footed clapper rail
Masked bobwhite quail
Mexican gray wolf
Mexican spotted owl
Sonoran chub
Sonoran pronghorn
Yellow billed cuckoo

So we are smarter than those coyotes, bobcats, deer, and antelope trying to sneak across the border, but homo sapiens still outwits us.







  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I think illegal immigration is down, but the drug running is more violent than ever. South of the border, pits full of bodies are showing up at an alarming rate.

    I wonder if anyone here has any information that is more than rumor about the current safety of recreation NORTH of but near the Mexican border? No way would I drive into Mexico.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      I know there is a core group of people that do the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada over and over again. I’ve run into a few of them in the Stehekin Valley around mid- September. I wish I would have asked about that.

      1. Tamara Hamilton Avatar
        Tamara Hamilton

        Years ago (1989) it was a breeze – climb through the loose 4-strand barbed wire fence, stand in Mexico, turn around and start walking. I didn’t see any “illegals” or Border Patrol. For that matter, it was two days before I ran into another hiker. I imagine it’s a bit different now.

    2. WM Avatar


      Official policy from the US State Department. Once you get past the first couple of concilliatory paragraphs to the Mexican government, there is the real situation (notice the advisory has not been changed since April 2011, so it can’t be any better, and is probably worse):

      ++Violence along Mexican roads and highways is a particular concern in the northern border region. As a result, effective July 15, 2010, the U.S. Mission in Mexico imposed restrictions on U.S. government employees’ travel. U.S. government employees and their families are not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior of Mexico or Central America.++

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Thanks WM,

        People should be aware of this. As I said, no way would I travel in Mexico from a border crossing.

        However, my question was about the safety in backcountry areas in the United States near the Mexico border.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Give me a break Ralph. Most of the species on this list are not impeded by a fence. Brown Pelicans fly out at sea and are not in any way affected by the fence. I photograph Elegant Trogans close to the border and they are quite capable of flying over the fence. So are the rest of the birds on this list.
    The hundreds of abandoned cars and the thousands of tons of trash the illegals throw all over the U.S. deserts each year cause far more damage to wildlife than any fence. There are signs on public land all along the border warning U.S. citizens to stay out because of the Mexican drug gangs. I want my country back! Build a double fence.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      It is a double fence. That is what the Secure Fence Act is about.

      I got the list from the Defenders site. It is hard to see how the birds are affected, but not the rest.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Excuse me. It mostly is not a double fence. “On January 23, 2008 the 110th Congress introduced Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008 (H.R. 5124). This bill called for Homeland Security to construct an additional 700 miles of two layered, 14 foot high fencing along the southwest border.[5] The bill died in committee and was never voted upon.[5.”

        I have heard it will never be built in much of Texas because of the power of property rights owners there.

      2. aves Avatar

        The ability to fly does not in any way make birds immune to the negative effects of the border fences. It’s not just a fence, its significant habitat destruction on both sides for fence construction and border patrol.

        There’s at least the equivalent width of a 4-lane highway on either side for patrolling with even the habitat beyond that altered too much for wildlife to adapt. Many bird species will simply not cross such a wide open area to access suitable habitat across the border or even to access the Rio Grande.

        The masked bobwhite quail is seeing its habitat destroyed by both the illegal immigrants and those trying to stop them. They were wiped out in the U.S. due to habitat loss, bred in captivity and released to the wild. Because such little habitat remains and because of their vulnerability to predators the quail now number less than a hundred on Arizona’s Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge with similar numbers in Mexico.

        The California brown pelican and federally endangered California clapper rail have been significantly impacted. In order to build the fence on level ground they have dug up soil to fill in canyons, which causes erosion into an ecologically important saltwater estuary. As sediment creeps into the estuary the habitat the rails breed in and the pelicans use for feeding and resting is being harmed.

        You simply cannot alter habitat and violate environmental laws to this magnitude without having negative impacts on our wildlife, including birds.

    2. JB Avatar

      Wow, that’s ironic coming from you Larry. So wildlife are hopelessly negatively impacted by mean old scientists who hang radio collars around their necks, but a giant wall spanning the length of the country that is designed to keep living things out is no problem at all.

      Do you think perchance you might have let your political bias creep into your assessment of the relative impacts of radio collars and border fence? 😉

    3. Mike Avatar

      Why do I get the funny feeling that if the fence messed with Larry’s ability to photograph wildlife, he’d be against it.

      1. WM Avatar

        ++….messed with Larry’s ability to photograph wildlife, he’d be against it.”

        A reason to celebrate, Mike. Another rare topic on which we agree.

        1. Mike Avatar


    4. Mal Adapted Avatar
      Mal Adapted

      What’s your position on drug legalization, Larry?

  3. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    The biological consequences of a continuous fence are concerning, but so is the flow of millions of uneducated illegal immigrants that we have zero capability of successfully integrating into society in those kinds of numbers in such a short time-frame.

    It’s true that the housing crash has reduced illegal immigration to a much more acceptable level, but what about when the economy picks up again a few years down the road?

    Without diving too much into the topic of illegal immigration, I have been interested lately in Canada’s immigration policies. I now have to travel up there consistently for work, and have had a chance to frequent some major urban centers. For some reason, different ethnicities seem to be better integrated up there and have more opportunities. I’m becoming more convinced that those opportunities weren’t just artifically created by their government, either. I’m sure it also helps to not have a porous southern border with a economically backwards neighbor.

  4. WM Avatar

    One would think the environmental groups concerned about the effects of the fence on wildlife might also have interestin the number of fires caused by illegals crossing the border. Some attributed to cooking, or maybe warming, but nonetheless have burned over thousands of acres. That is in addition to all the trash left behind for animals to get into. Then there is the disease brought over, and when someone takes a dump or pukes the wild animals may eat it and if they can serve as a host, we have more vectors for the disease.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Well, I know from my experience and it is easy to tell from Google Earth that the illegals have made a horrible mess, but the damn right wing fence builders could have designed it to allow for passage of wildlife. They could have appropriated some money for workable designs.

      Thirty – forty years ago important legislation was passed by Congress, but they they almost always had side payments to those who were unintentionally, but negatively impacted by the law. That greased the process, and half the population thought Congress was doing a good job, about as high a rating as Congress every gets.

      Now they pass almost no legislation. The reason is they don’t make side payments to affected groups. Their popularity is 11%

      1. Daniel Berg Avatar
        Daniel Berg

        Yeah, it would have been great if they could have designed the fence to allow wildlife passage at least in sections.

      2. Daniel Berg Avatar
        Daniel Berg


        It appears that in isolated areas, they do incorporate wildlife crossing into the fence, but they are much too small for larger animals:

        “What is the impact of the border fence on Texas animals?”


    2. aves Avatar

      No doubt those crossing our border are hurting wildlife as well, but they are acting illegally. What our government has done is allow itself to legally violate all sorts of federal and state laws (Clean Water Act, Wilderness Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, etc).

      Those setting our immigration policy have no interest in actually solving the problem. They prefer to keep using it as a wedge issue and something to rile up their base. If we wanted to truly stop illegal immigration we would crack down on those hiring them. But that might impact our precious economy and the current ruling class.

      1. Dude, the bagman Avatar
        Dude, the bagman

        “Those setting our immigration policy have no interest in actually solving the problem. They prefer to keep using it as a wedge issue and something to rile up their base. If we wanted to truly stop illegal immigration we would crack down on those hiring them. But that might impact our precious economy and the current ruling class.”

        Well spoken, sir or madam.

  5. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Ralph, the fact that ranchers and US agents are becoming engaged in shootings north of the border in high traffic areas should be enough of an answer for you. With the down turn in the economy the percentage of illegal traffic thru the fence has shifted to more drug related than job related. Thus, odds are, if you encounter someone they likely will be confirmed criminals rather than desperate families. That said, there is probably a greater chance of a real violent encounter in the SW USFS areas where the grows are rampant and staffed by illegal narcotrafficantes who are well armed and dont mind destroying any interfering wildlife either.

    It is a sad state of affairs and unless Mexico as a soverign state gets control of their criminal organizations then it will get worse. I hate to think what the wildlife implications are on the southern side where there is obviously no enforcement or monitoring.

  6. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Unless you have made some US-Mex border crossings, and actually walked the Tortilla Curtain , opinions are cheap.

    I’ve spent almost 3 total years of my life going overland to and through Mexico. Made a few dozen crossings, all but one in either Nogales/Nogales or El Paso Juarez. But by far the most eyeopening experience was driving the backroads out of Arivaca and Sasabe AZ west of Nogales in October 2001, just after 9-11 when the entire Arizona Mexico border was patrolled by F-16’s, A-10 Warthogs, and Apache helicopters it seemed , from the nearby bases. Everything was ” tense” There already were citizen militia types out patrolling the arroyos and small canyons for illegals and al-Quaeda. It didn;t help that deer season was open. Guns were brandished in the damndest places. My friend from Sedona and I had to ” answer” to many of them , even though we were just cruising around, taking our time before driving to the other end of Mexico for Day of the Dead festivities. We were driving a Chrysler New Yorker. We were ” suspicious”. Those folks were downright scary.

    What was scarier was the obvious amount of human traffic from south to north across the ill defined border. There wasn’t a single drywash or shady spot that didn;t have discarded clothing, empty water bottles, a zillion empty cans of tuna, and the other throwaway garbage of the illegals. Judging from the freshness and abundance, a heckuva lot of Mexicans scampered across the border thereabouts. I was taken aback at the scale of it.

    And the whole patriots with guns ” Militia” border defense hue and cry didn’t even ramp up for a few more years yet. I can’t imagine how it has ebbed and flowed in intensity the last 11 years.

    But building a Wall is no answer. Walls never work. Ask China. Ask Hadrian. Ask the French about the Maginot. Walls are just temporary impediments for anyone determined to cross from Sovereignty A to Sovereignty B.

    One of Molly Ivins’ classic Texas Monthly columns was about a ” Wall Scaling” contest she witnessed at a Texas outdoor barbecue. An 18-foot wall with a case of Lone Star beer on one side and some eager teams on the other. The winning time for scaling the wall with all your teammembers was less than 30 seconds if I recall , using nothing extraordinary. Too easy.

    The US has its head where the sun don’t shine with respect to borders. Come to think of it, can you name any nation on Earth that doesn’t have an immigration ” problem” , coming or going ? I can’t. There probably aren’t any, just degrees of tenseness.

    The wildlife do suffer the consequences , regardless. Collateral damage in the War on Terror and the even more ridiculous War on Drugs.

    1. Doryfun Avatar

      I agree with you Cody coyote, it is always easier to cast stones from afar. If one had to live next to the border, then make a decision about how to make things better, for people or wildlife, their conclusions might differ from those living far removed from everyday reality of the situation.

      I’ve always been an advocate for wildlife, but to what extent, I’m not sure? When it comes right down to personal safety and being in the battle zone, one never knows until actually there, what decision they will truly make.

      Walls may help, but not the ultimate answer. And I’m not sure how a barrier can be designed that can differentiate between human and animal, when both live by the same natural laws?? But, I don’t have any good solutions, either. It indeed, is an ugly quagmire.

    2. Mike Avatar

      Yeah you’d think the U.S. would’ve learned from history. There’s plenty of data there to mine regarding ridiculously long walls. I guess we’re just too stupid.

      Walls are great for compounds, but stretched out like this along a border they are worthless.

  7. Kropotkin Man Avatar
    Kropotkin Man

    I’ve lived and worked in SE AZ and SW NM for much of the last 15 years. I’ve been visiting the area for almost 30. I’m still in the region.

    Be careful and stay on the beaten track. Travel with another person. If you camp, stay in designated sites and don’t camp alone. I’d avoid remote places, like Sycamore Canyon west of Nogales. Also, don’t leave your vehicle unattended in very remote places e.g. the spring in Organ Pipe.

    Places like Ramsey, Madre, Fort Huachuca, the San Pedro, and Buenos Aires are relatively safe. Loads of people around, etc. Contact the USFWS, BLM, NPS, Army and ask questions.

    Things have slowed down with the turn in the economy but if you’re in the wilds, you’re going see people coming across. Also, Mexicans are scared to be on their side of the border due to the cartel violence. Many folks hunt these areas, so people are out and about in the brush and will pop up (usually when you’ve got your pants around your ankles!). I’d avoid being out after dark.

    There are tons of “military” folks around. It’s hard to avoid them; you’ll hear their vehicles before you see them. They are everywhere. Don’t travel with any recreational plants, you’ll get busted. In AZ you can openly pack heat.

    The amount of trash is unbelievable especially in the washes and along the roads. However, I’d like to see a comparison of the long-term damage done by the flow of people on foot with the damage done by the “military” that occupy the region. Further, let’s not forget the damage done by all the white, wealthy, frost-backs invading the area from the north.

    It’s an amazingly beautiful place have fun and enjoy!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan