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Impact of the Proposed Border Wall on the Environment and Ecotourism in South Texas

Joffre Meyer is an English and Social Studies teacher as well as a citizen journalist.

The environmental impact of the proposed border wall has been neglected on national TV stations—together with the harm it would cause to the ecotourism economy of South Texas.

But President Trump has taken pride in rolling back environmental protection regulations. His wall could damage the economy of South Texas.

Environmental Justice

A Clinton Administration rule (1994) addressed Environmental Justice in Minority and Low Income Populations—Executive Order 12898. The government isn’t supposed to have policies that hurt the economy of areas with more minorities or poor people than average.

The Rio Grande suffers from poverty. The per capita income of Starr County is $11,659/year, and the per capita income for Hidalgo County is $13,480/year.

A Unique Ecosystem Brings Money to the Local Economy

Ecotourism brings $463 million a year to the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley area. Tiffany Kuersten, a biologist with the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. asserts that the Rio Grande region is the “most diverse habitat in the entire country.” That’s because of the unique Tamaulipan thorn scrub forest—a subtropical ecosystem. There are 1100 plant species and 700 vertebrate species (including over 500 bird species) in this region; at least 18 species are endangered. Texas A&M University reported that 6000 jobs depend on nature tourism in South Texas.

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Tragically, 95% of the Rio Grande forest has already been destroyed over the years. The Center for Biological Diversity and 31 other groups oppose physical wall construction. For Trump to succeed in building his wall, 28 environmental protection laws would have to be suspended.

The great insect diversity in this region leads to great bird diversity as well. Half of the bird species seen in the entire United States are in the Rio Grande Valley. The Bentsen State Park alone brings in tourist money of $835,000/year. The Bentsen State Park was donated by the family of former Senator Lloyd Bentsen, and if public access is denied, ownership would revert to the family—another legal challenge.

Restrictions in the 2019 Wall Bill

According to the Washington Examiner, the February 2019 bill includes language that puts a limit on where Trump can build. "Section 231 says none of the money can be used to build fencing in five key wildlife areas. Those areas are the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, the La Lomita Historical Park, the National Butterfly Center, or in or near a section of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.”

“The bill also includes a third limitation for new fencing that the Trump administration might want to build near major cities. Section 232 of the bill says the Department of Homeland Security must ‘confer and seek to reach mutual agreement’ on fencing designs near these cities. That limitation applies to five cities or areas of Texas: Roma, Rio Grande City, Escobares, La Grulla, and Salineo.”

A Smart Border Wall Would Use Technology

A “smart wall” would mix actual physical barriers with better drug detection at the ports of entry, increased staff, and electronic surveillance devices. Imagine more friendly border guard staff at parks where visitors go look at exotic animals! The drones could be in those desolate areas that often prove fatal for would-be immigrants and are largely understaffed anyway. Allow private landowners to ask for or deny a wall on their property. Some proposed walls would literally give parts of the Rio Grande Valley to Mexico!

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Joffre Meyer

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