Construction has begun on President Trump’s border wall between Arizona and Mexico, and conservationists are furious. The massive barrier will skirt one of the most beloved protected areas in the Southwest — Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, recognized by the United Nations as an international biosphere reserve.
On a recent drive along the borderline, a crew was transplanting tall saguaro cactus out of the construction zone.
“There may be misconceptions that we are on a construction site and just not caring for the environment,” intones a voice on a video released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project. “We are relocating saguaro, organ pipe, ocotillo…”
But a half-mile away, a big yellow bulldozer was scraping the desert clean and mowing down cactus columns that were likely older than the young man operating the dozer.
Customs and Border Protection later said 110 desert plants have been relocated, and unhealthy ones get bulldozed.
This scene illustrates why environmentalists are deeply skeptical of the government’s plans. They fear that as CBP and the Defense Department race to meet the president’s deadline of 450 miles of wall by Election Day 2020, they will plow through one of the most biologically and culturally rich regions of the continental United States.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has warned that the wall, with its bright lights, human activity and impermeable barrier, could negatively impact 23 endangered and at-risk species, including the Sonoran pronghorn antelope. And the National Park Service says construction could destroy 22 archaeological sites. Yet, for this stretch of western desert, the government has waived 41 federal environmental laws to expedite construction.