Conservation groups study wildlife movements at border wall in Arizona

Conservation groups study wildlife movements at border wall in Arizona

Conservation groups set up cameras in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona to study the effects of the border wall on wildlife movements, including whether large mammals use the open floodgates during the monsoon to cross the border.

Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network are expanding their wildlife research in the US-Mexico border regions with dozens of remote wildlife cameras installed in June along 2 miles of the border wall in the small wildlife refuge east of Douglas .

Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network installed cameras in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge to document animals crossing the border through the gates of the border wall. Images and video courtesy of Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network, 2022

Danielle Khmara


Sky Island Alliance previously launched the Border Wildlife Survey in March 2020 with 58 cameras from the Patagonian Mountains through the Huachucas, including one of the few areas on the Arizona border where there are no of border wall.

This new study focuses on the San Bernardino Valley, which the groups say is an important wildlife migration corridor between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Occidental, which was impacted by the 30-foot-tall border wall.

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While the border fence cuts off most large wildlife from their migratory patterns, animals can still cross the border for part of the year through a series of 1.7 meter wide floodgates, which are open seasonally. monsoon.

The project’s cameras recorded more than 48,000 photos of more than 20 species of mammals during the first month of the study. About 9% of the animals that have been seen near the floodgates have passed through them, including a mountain lion, a bobcat and javelins.






The San Bernardino Valley is an important wildlife migration corridor between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Occidental.


Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network


It’s too early in the study to determine why only 9% of animals use the valves to migrate, but one reason could be that it’s a relatively new structure that animals are still learning about. adapt, explains Eamon Harrity of Sky Island Alliance.

If the sluices were open year-round, it would give animals a better opportunity to get used to using them, he said.

“If we learn that large mammals can cross the border through open floodgates, we can create wildlife pathways all along the US-Mexico border to help them reach vital food and water,” he said. he declares. “It’s a simple policy choice to open those floodgates and help species like mountain lions and black bears return to their historic migration paths through the Wall.”

Customs and Border Protection could not immediately answer the question of whether it was possible to leave the gates open all year round.

There are also many small openings in the border wall of this area that are about the size of a sheet of paper. Sky Island Alliance has seen small animals like a hare or a roadrunner using these openings, but only animals so small they could probably fit through the border fence bollards anyway, Harrity says.






The gates of the border wall are opened during the monsoon. Conservation groups hope to determine whether the larger animals use the open gates to cross the border.


Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network


Larger animals such as black bears, cougars, and jaguars typically migrated through this border region seasonally in search of mates for breeding or for food and water. Over 90% of critical jaguar habitat along the US-Mexico border in Arizona has been crossed by the border wall.

“The most immediate effect is that for the first time in the history of this continent, more or less, there is a barrier to movement,” Harrity says. “So these very diverse animals are suddenly cut off from what could be a seasonally available resource on either side of the border.”






Conservation groups have installed cameras in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge to study the effects of the border wall on wildlife movements.


Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network


A longer-term effect of disrupting annual migration patterns may be dwindling animal populations, making them more susceptible to disease and local extinction events, he said.

This study is one of the only works underway to understand the impact of the Arizona border on wildlife and examine the floodgates to understand their potential as wildlife corridors and wildlife crossing points, Harrity says.

When the wall was built in 2020, the federal government waived all environmental laws using the REAL ID Act of 2005, which among other things allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive laws to expedite construction of border infrastructure. .

No environmental studies have been conducted to investigate the impact of the border wall on wildlife in the refuge because all of those laws have been lifted, says Michael Dax, program director at Wildlands Network.






The project’s cameras recorded more than 48,000 photos of more than 20 species of mammals during the first month of the study.


Sky Island Alliance and Wildlands Network


“Now, with this vital research underway, we can begin to understand how the border wall is affecting animal populations,” he said.

The study only has a few months of data now, but the groups plan to monitor wildlife in the refuge for at least three years, documenting wildlife movements through the seasons when the border wall floodgates are at the bottom. times open and closed.

“I think the long-term implications of this wall are possibly quite severe if no action is taken to increase the openings or the ability for animals to cross,” Harrity said.

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