Border Fantasy Legislation Threatens Wildlands

One of the only good things about the failure of Congress to agree upon the future of DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is that Trump’s fantasy about a border wall was not funded yet (which you may remember Mexico was going to pay for).

Many see the Border Wall controversy as a humanitarian issue and a financial folly. Worse, according to many experts, a border wall would be ineffective in preventing illegal immigration.

However, yet another lesser known aspect of the Border Wall controversy is the recent introduction of legislation designed to facilitate construction of infrastructure, roading, surveillance stations, and more within 100 miles of any American border without any environmental or other regulatory laws.

For instance, the Border Security for America Act 2017 (H.R. 3548) introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and co-sponsored by 77 Republicans and not one Democrat would waive 36 environmental laws, including the Wilderness Act, the Migratory Bird Act, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, among others within a 100 mile stretch along all American borders including Alaska, the northern border with Canada as well as the southern border by Mexico.

In other words, it would give Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection agencies, almost unlimited ability to vacate and violate with immunity many of our most precious environmental law and our most sacred landscapes including national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges.

A hundred mile swath of  borderlands takes in such wild places as the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, Olympic National Park, Pasayten Wilderness and North Cascades National Park in Washington, Great Bear and the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, Lostwood Wilderness in North Dakota, Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota, Apostle Islands Wilderness in Wisconsin, Isle Royal National Park in Michigan, Breadloaf Wilderness in Vermont, Wild River Wilderness in New Hampshire, and Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine just to name a few of the many areas that could be affected. Along our southern border, are such special places as Cabaza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe National Monument, Saguaro National Park in Arizona, are among the areas that could be impacted by recent legislation.

An analysis by Wilderness Watch found that the legislation if enacted, would potentially impact 73 designated wildernesses totaling 32 million acres along the northern border alone!

A second bill, the “Secure Our Borders and Wilderness Act” (H.R. 3593), from Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), would directly amend and weaken the 1964 Wilderness Act. This bill would allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to access structures, installations, and roads; use motor vehicles; use and land aircraft; deploy “temporary” infrastructure, including forward operating bases; and construct and maintain roads, all in designated Wildernesses!

Many see this as an end run around environmental protections across the county by using the fear of illegal immigration as an excuse to waive environmental regulations. The legality of this action is being challenged by a number of environmental groups, however, the problem of border security and its impacts on other American values is still an open question.

Even if Congress fails to pass border wall legislation, Trump is already waiving environmental regulations piecemeal. Just this past January, he waived environmental laws affecting a 20 mile stretch of the border near El Paso, Texas. This is the third time the President has dictated waivers of national laws.

We don’t need to compromise the integrity of our most sacred and wild landscapes to protect the nation. Indeed, the Border Patrol has worked for decades maintaining border security without significantly compromising our premier wildlands and parks. These legislative efforts are simply Trojan Horses designed to undue the Nation’s premier environmental laws using national security as the excuse.






  1. Isabel Cohen Avatar
    Isabel Cohen

    Over 75% of U.S. citizens wish to protect wildlife at any and all costs. Removing all safeguards from groups providing this protection is unconscionable and should not be allowed!

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I really don’t like the idea of this border wall, at all.

  3. Yvette Avatar

    I’m glad you wrote about this, George. There is not enough attention being paid to the pending ecological disaster that will happen if the Trump border wall goes up.

    There are 7 different ecosystems that span both America and Mexico between CA and the GOM. There are regions which are critical habitat for endangered or threatened species of both animals and plants. Of course, animals need to migrate transboundary and the some species of plants need to be dispersed by those migrations. Everyone in here already knows how dire is the situation for the Lobo and that there are only 97 Canis Lupus baileyi left in the wild and that there was an 11% drop in population from last year. That wall will be the final nail in the coffin.

    There is already about 700 miles of border fence that was constructed and installed after the ‘Secure Fence Act of 2006’ was enacted. Former DHS Secretary, Michael Chertoff exercised federal immigration law to have Congress waive all of 37 federal statutes that pertain to environmental or conservation. In the Arizona-Mexico border area of the Sonora, Brian Nowicki of Center for Biological Diversity, said there are 30 endangered, threatened or candidate species. That is just one region.

    That’s just the potential ecologically devastating problems with the border wall. It does not even address the damage from built road disturbing habitat, increased human activity, increase in rumination for security or migrating plants and animals to to climate change.

    In the Texas region where the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge is located feds are already at work. I’ve read from legitimate sources from the National Butterfly Center that vegetation is already being removed on federal land. This is vegetation that butterflies need on their migrations. The Santa Ana WLR website states over half of all 4,000 butterfly species on this continent migrate through that region.

    Can you imagine what is going to happen when the migrations of already threatened or endangered species is stopped by that wall. Birds and butterflies can fly over but they still need specific plants to feed or lay eggs. What will happen when the pollinators that are already under threat no longer have the vegetation needed to lay eggs or so the caterpillar can feed? There is a human-animal connection with risk for human health and survival.

    All this ecological damage for what? A symbol. That is all the Trump border wall amounts to, a symbol of separation. The Trump border wall is not even a viable solution for immigration problems since most undocumented immigrants came legally and over stayed their visas.

    I’m going to leave you with a short video from the Santa Ana WLR. And this is where they are already starting to clear and prepare for their damned border wall and symbol of separation.

    We need more people calling all of their Senators and Representatives to demand no to Trump’s border wall and yes to DACA.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner