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by Stephen Leahy

Anti-Migrant Border Policies Not Working, Often Fatal (1999)

(IPS) -- Jaguars have no place in the United States, although a handful still roam the southwest. Environmentalists suspect the real reason U.S. officials are allowing the jaguar to become extinct is the "security" wall being built along the Mexican border.

Ecologists have long warned that the border wall -- actually a series of walls -- will have big impacts on wildlife and the region's fragile and unique ecology.

"There is no question that jaguars (Panthera onca) in the U.S. and northern Mexico would be significantly affected by the wall," says Joe Cook, expert in mammal biology at the University of New Mexico.

"As best we can tell, the few remaining U.S. jaguars are part of a larger population based in northern Mexico," Cook told Tierramerica.

The wall would stop the movement of jaguars north and south, greatly diminishing the genetic diversity of the animals trapped on either side. That loss of diversity could increase their susceptibility to disease and vulnerability to other environmental changes, he said.

"The only hope to preserve large carnivores in the wild is to have large areas of continuous, unfragmented habitat."

Jaguars have roamed the southern United States, from Louisiana to California, for thousands of years. Extensive predator control efforts in the late 1800s and much of the last century decimated their numbers until very few remained.

Now a highly endangered species, U.S. conservation laws require that the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) develop a plan to help the jaguar recover.

That has never happened and environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, have filed lawsuits to have one created.

However, last week the USFWS announced it is abandoning all jaguar recovery efforts, stating that the United States represents only a small part of the animal's range.

Not only is that a poor justification scientifically, it also sets a precedent for smaller, poorer nations to argue that since they are only a small part of the jaguar's range, or the range of any other animal, they should not have to protect endangered species, says Cook.

"The (George W.) Bush administration has been horrific with respect to the conservation of America's natural resources," he adds.

"The New World's largest cat is going extinct throughout North and South America, but rather than develop a plan to save it, the Bush administration is building a wall to forever keep it out of the U.S.," said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

If there was a jaguar recovery plan it might slow or even force the relocation of large projects, like new mines, roads or the construction of a vast wall along the border.

This "was a short-sighted effort to keep Mexican nationals out of the U.S. with a militaristic wall that extends to Mexico's animals as well," Suckling told Tierramerica.

The 3,141-kilometre Mexican-U.S. border crosses a biologically diverse region of desert, mangrove forests, plains, mountains, river valleys, wetlands, cities and towns. The border region is home for many rare and endangered species.

And now a series of walls and barriers, along with roads, lights and power facilities, are being built along large portions of it without any environmental assessment, according to Laura Lopez-Hoffman, an ecologist at the University of Arizona.

Lopez-Hoffman, also linked to the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), is part of a group of scientists on both sides of the border who are trying to conduct a scientific assessment of the ecological impacts of the wall. But the wall is going up faster than they can scramble to collect data.

"The best we can do in the next year is create hypothetical models of the potential impacts. Collecting data on the actual responses of species will take another 10 years and it will be too late," she said.

There is no doubt the wall will have profound ecological effects, most obviously preventing the movement of many species, such as the jaguars. Transboundary species like birds and bats will be affected by any lighting along the wall.

Mexico is considering filing a complaint against the United States in the International Court of Justice for the environmental damage caused by the wall. By building the wall, the U.S. is violating international treaties, according to Gerardo Ceballos, of UNAM's Institute of Ecology.

Even before the wall project, the Border Service had done a lot of damage, including the burning of wide areas to improve visibility, the fencing off of wildlife trails, and the filling in of valleys, canyons and estuaries, says Lopez-Hoffman.

In Mexico, ecologists also see the wall as a barrier to collaboration on cross-border environmental issues, she adds.

The expert stresses that it will be more difficult for U.S. and Mexican scientists to work together on water issues and the impacts of climate change, which are expected to hit the region particularly hard.

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Albion Monitor   February 5, 2008   (

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