Debate over environmental impact of border fence continues

Published 10 July 2008

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is part of the U.S.-Mexico border, and all agree that the area’s ecosystem is particularly delicate; DHS wants to build a fence there, but environmentalists object

National security vs. the environment — the debate is continuing on how the construction of a border fence will impact a particularly delicate ecosystem. It is where the San Pedro River meets the international border. DHS says there will be a border wall there, but environmentalists say the damage could be high. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is part of the U.S.-Mexico border, and it is what brought a number of environmental activists and government officials together for a meeting on ysterday. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who joined the meeting via teleconference from Washington, D.C., said “I disagree with Secretary Chertoff’s decision to construct border fences without first conducting environmental impact studies that are required under NEPA and other federal laws.”

Congress has given Chertoff the power to waive environmental concerns and he did, much to the outrage of environmentalists. At the meeting, there was hope for a compromise in the form of a memorandum. “Basically what the memorandum of agreement does, is it formally establishes an agreement between the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Department of Homeland Security,” said DOI spokesman Rick Schultz. That agreement would lessen the environmental impacts that have occurred, or may occur, as a result of protecting the border. The goal is to gather a group of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey to assess and monitor the overall impact of border security in the San Pedro Conservation area. “I feel really good about this,” said Schultz. “I think the USGS is the proper agency to be involved in this.” The area in question is a well-traveled path for illegal border crossers.

According to Robert Boatright of the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, “There’s no single silver bullet that will solve the border security problem, so again that’s why we use the right mix.” Everyone at the meeting hopes they can find a mix that provides security and lessens the environmental impact. Officials with the Department of the Interior say none of this has been finalized, but they hope to have a plan in place within six months.