Since Donald Trump began his campaign for the US presidency, we’ve heard about the proposed border wall. Some have protested it. Some have cheered it on. Now that Homeland Security is issuing notices to local landowners and requesting proposals for prototypes, it looks as if this thing is really happening. Whether we took it seriously or not, we did have advance notice.
But there are populations that haven’t been warned in advance whose numbers will be profoundly affected, in ways that haven’t been completely studied or entirely determined. The only thing that we do know is that the effects of border walls on these populations are often unintended, wide-ranging, and significant. What we do know, according to peer-reviewed studies, is that for these populations, border walls “represent a major threat.” We’re referring, of course, to wildlife.
From Australia’s rabbit-proof fence, to razor-wire fencing between Slovenia and Croatia, to the current U.S.-Mexican border fence, history is rife with examples of barriers that have caused serious problems for animals. Borders — whether made from concrete, barbed wire, mesh, chain link, or razor-fencing — pose obstacles and dangers to the survival of animals at both an individual and species-wide level. If the government’s ideal wall design is met (and even if it’s bumped down to a more “modest” proposal), we are looking at serious ramifications for the wildlife that exist on either side of our southwest border.
What might that ideal wall look like? According to US Customs and Border Protection, features shall include:
1) The wall design shall be reinforced concrete.
2) The wall design shall be physically imposing in height. The Government’s nominal concept is for a 30-foot high wall. Offerors should consider this height, but designs with heights of at least 18 feet may be acceptable. Designs with heights of less than 18 feet are not acceptable.
3) It shall not be possible for a human to climb to the top of the wall or access the top of the wall from either side unassisted (e.g. via the use of a ladder, etc.)
4) The wall design shall include anti-climb topping features that prevent scaling using common and more sophisticated climbing aids (e.g. grappling hooks, handholds, etc.)
5) The wall shall prevent digging or tunneling below it for a minimum of 6 feet below the lowest adjacent grade.
6) The wall shall prevent/deter for a minimum of 1 hour the creation a physical breach of the wall…
7) The north side of wall (i.e. U.S. facing side) shall be aesthetically pleasing in color, anti-climb texture, etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment. The manufacturing/construction process should facilitate changes in color and texture pursuant to site specific requirements.
8) The wall design shall be able to accommodate surface drainage.
Now try to imagine an existing animal that wouldn’t have problems going over, under, or around that. If you thought ‘birds,’ put a pin in it; we’ll get there, but for now, suffice it to say that the gift of flight isn’t a free pass across borders. What are the dangers, exactly, that these animals face, and what animals, exactly, are in danger?