Jesse Lasky discusses the details and failings of barrier construction on the United States-Mexico border, including impacts on wildlife communities and genetic diversity.
(Sound of coyotes)
Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Jesse Lasky. He’s currently assistant professor at Penn State University. His work explores how the environment and human modifications of the environment affect biodiversity at the level of genetics and ecological communities. Today we talk about how a wall between the US and Mexico would harm wildlife and natural communities. Here is a link to some of his work on this subject: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1472-4642.2011.00765.x/abstract
So first, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.
JL: It’s my pleasure.
DJ: So, I guess the first question is, you’ve done work on walls and fences, and just – can you talk about, on the most basic level; how do walls and fences affect the natural world? What do they do to individuals and communities?
JL: Fences and walls can have a few different impacts. And these impacts differ depending on the kind of organism we’re talking about, and also depending on the time scale we’re talking about. And I can give you a little overview.
DJ: That sounds great.
JL: For a shorter time scale, one of the things we’re concerned about is the day-to-day movements of large organisms that often move pretty far across the landscape. So large animals, things like pumas, jaguars, bighorn sheep, black bears. These are animals that – they’re pretty charismatic and they usually, often move far distances to find food, to find water, and mates. So any individual needs to move over a large area, and if that movement is stopped across a large portion of where they live, then they might not be able to find enough food, they might not be able to find enough water. So they might have a hard time making a living and so you might see those populations decline relatively rapidly.
So that’s sort of a short-term impact because their day-to-day livelihoods are impeded for those kinds of organisms. That’s something that we’re concerned about in the region of the border where there’s been a lot of construction of walls and fences, and they’ve certainly talked about doing more of that.
And then, moving to a sort of longer-term view, one of the things we’re concerned about is if there’s a lack of movement of organisms across the landscape, that might lead to extinction of those organisms. And one of the reasons we’re concerned about that is that many species, especially things that are often fairly rare already – some of these species often live in fairly isolated populations. And so any given population might be vulnerable to disturbances. Things like storms, a variety of things might come in and wipe out an individual population. But if there’s dispersal across a landscape, those populations can be refounded by new colonists from other populations. And that sort of continual renewal process is key to the survival of many species.
So if you really reduce the dispersal of organisms across the landscapes, that can be a major problem for their longterm persistence.
In addition to that demographic issue there, that’s sort of related to this refounding of populations, we also have concerns that are genetic in nature. So that sort of looks like the situation where you’ve got populations that are isolated and they start to lose genetic diversity. This is because genetic diversity is really one of the, or dispersal across the landscape is one the major sources of genetic diversity for populations. And so if they lose that source of diversity, you might imagine that they could have a harder time adapting to changes in the environment over time, like climate change, if there’s no genetic diversity in the population.
Also over time these isolated populations can have issues with inbreeding depression, where you have close relatives mating with each other. And one of the sort of poster childs in conservation of that in the United States is the Florida Panther, which is an isolated, pretty small population in South Florida, of the puma, and their diseases that became prevalent because of inbreeding, and so one of the things they did was brought in pumas from Texas to mate with them, to provide some genetic diversity and that helped cover up some of those genetic diseases.
So that movement of organisms across the landscape can be really essential for that long-term persistence, for those genetic reasons as well. Those are sort of the issues that we have with animal movement, where we have concern about impeding movement.
We’re also concerned with direct impacts barriers have, because in constructing the barrier – whoever’s constructing a barrier, a wall – a fence especially – these kinds of big barriers require a lot of construction equipment, and they also often, in places where you have steep terrain, mountainous areas, and many areas along the border are like that – those kind of areas; the construction itself requires you to build roads and really disturbs a fairly large swath of the landscape directly, so the native vegetation is removed, or sometimes you have things like what happened in the California coastal mountains where an entire canyon was filled in with dirt so that they could build a fence across the canyon.
So those kind of direct impacts of fences and walls and the construction of them is the other part of it. And that’s not actually just the construction. Once they’re constructed, the Border Patrol often likes to have a road maintained along the fence, and sometimes they put up stadium lighting, and keep vegetation away from the barriers. So those disturbances we’re also very concerned about.
DJ: So just to be clear, when you’re saying “the wall,” you’re talking specifically about the border between the United States and Mexico. But you’re also talking about the effects of walls in general. Correct?
JL: Yeah. So everything I’ve really been talking about here is general, but we’ve studied this specifically in the southwest, along the US-Mexico border. But these are general issues with barriers that stop human movement, or these large construction projects.
DJ: So, a few directions to go. One of them is that, I don’t remember the name of him, he’s a very famous biologist in the 1990’s wrote a book about island, basically island conservation and how if you fragment habitat – was it Michael Soule? I don’t remember who it was. If you fragment habitat then you can basically – if you’re going to model the population behavior, it may be kind of like they’re on an island, and they can’t intermix. So it sounds like at least on one level, the demographic level, it sounds kind of like that’s what you’re talking about too. The walls create these barriers that could be the same thing as 20 miles of ocean.
JL: Yeah, that’s a common perspective to take on trying to understand what’s going to happen to the populations that are in different parts of the landscape where humans have made the sort of intervening part, what we call the matrix, really hard to move through. A common way we study it is sort of making that analogy with islands, because movement is so difficult.
DJ: So before we focus on the border between the United States and Mexico, can you talk about – are there – I’m very ignorant on this. Are there other major walls around the world that have had devastating effects? I mean, I’m presuming the Great Wall of China had big effects on migratory creatures. Are there other ones that have been studied? I’ve read about a big wall in Namibia that caused lots and lots of animals to starve, or die of thirst, because they could no longer get to their water holes. Are there other examples that we know of?
JL: This is something that’s not actually very well studied. There’s some work on some fences that were put in some of the Balkan states fairly recently, and their impacts on some of the large mammals that are sort of being restored and conserved in those regions. A lot of the large mammals that are in Europe have pretty low populations from all the human use of the landscape. So in that Balkan region, some of the border fences that have been put up have been an issue for stopping movement of those animals.
There’s a lot of border fences and walls that have been constructed around the world. One of the things that is hard to assess, though – these impacts are hard to assess across large scales, just because of the logistical challenges, and also there’s often a gap in knowledge about what those barriers look like across the very large distances that we’re talking about. So really we don’t know a lot. There’s individual studies here and there, but there’s not been a lot of large-scale work.
The Great Wall of China is this example that’s brought up a lot, and I don’t think we have a good understanding of that either. One thing I will say about that though is that that’s one that at various times has had many openings in it, or sort of come down and then been restored. But what’s being proposed currently, to go on the US-Mexico border, would be something that would be impenetrable for wildlife.
And another important context to put all these issues in, is that of what’s happening outside of barrier building, to these wildlife, to these species. And that’s that we have other issues going on, like habitat destruction and climate change. All things that influence populations, that humans are doing. And so if we’re trying to understand how humans are impacting something, we need to think of them in that context. So if you go back to the, you know, time of the Great Wall of China, human impacts were of lesser magnitude, so that something like that, it’s probably less likely it would have as many impacts or as many, sort of, as dramatic impacts in terms of putting species at risk of extinction, because a lot of species, for example. along the US-Mexico border, are already at risk of extinction because of other things that people have been doing. And so this sort of piles on to that, these new barriers and walls that they’re putting up, that sort of adds to that. And the unfortunate situation is that it’s doing that in a way that we don’t know what the impacts are, because of the legislation.
DJ: I’ve written about previous mass extinctions, and how one of the things that’s even worse about this one than previous ones is that it is much more multifactorial than simply climate change. That in addition to dealing with climate change, they also have to deal with endocrine disruptors, they have to deal with pollution, they have to deal with the previous degradation or destruction of their habitat. And also they can’t simply flee. At least the dinosaurs, or whomever, could try to move north as quickly as possible. And nowadays, they’re going to run into Chicago, or run into a highway or run into a wall.
So I’m just validating what you said, or just agreeing with you.
JL: Yeah, that’s one of the things we didn’t really address so much in the study that we did a few years ago. But one thing that’s definitely on our minds now is the possible fallout, which is we have seen in recent decades a lot of changes in the distribution of organisms as climate shifts. And presumably species that are currently on one side of the US-Mexico border, or any other large border walls, you could imagine that species that are on one side, if we were to track their preferred climates through time, they would need to migrate to the other side of borders. And if you make borders impermeable, as the policy proposal is currently, then you’d really prevent that. You could imagine these species getting squeezed at borders.
DJ: So before we talk – I want to talk about one more thing before we move to the Mexico-US border. And that’s just fences in general. I grew up in the west, and like most people who grew up in the rural west, I have in my life seen deer or elk or coyotes who got caught up on barbed wire fences and died. Is this – are little fences – before we get to the big fence down there, which I’m going to talk about – has there been much study done of smaller fences, just the sort of fencing that we see every day, and their effects on both populations and the larger communities?
JL: Yeah, I’m not too familiar with a lot of work on that. I think that, although those barbed wire fences do sometimes catch organisms, mammals or whatnot, in them; I think that’s probably of much lesser magnitude impact than we’re thinking about currently. That’s not to say that it’s not potentially important. I’m just less familiar with that as a major threat. I don’t think it’s something that is currently considered a major conservation threat in areas where you have a lot of barbed wire fencing.
DJ: That’s pretty much what I thought too, is it’s more – I mean it’s certainly a tragedy for the individual animal. But I’ve also seen any number of deer just hop fences easily.
JL: That’s right.
DJ: So let’s move to the border. And let’s talk for a moment about the current wall and the proposed extensions. So what sort of scale are we talking about, what physically would we be describing?
JL: Currently what exists is a real mix of designs. In some places they took old steel helicopter landing mats and propped them up to make fencing. Some of the newer things that were made following the Secure Fence Act of 2006 had two different designs. One where they put in what’s called vehicle – they refer to some barriers as vehicle barriers and others as pedestrian barriers. Some of the vehicle barriers look like little posts in the ground. Also what they call Normandy barriers, which are these metal fences that are fairly short, about waist-high or so, that prevent vehicles from driving over them.
DJ: And from a wildlife perspective, we don’t much care about those, do we?
JL: Yeah, the impacts of those should be pretty small compared to other things.
DJ: Except the building and maintenance, of course.
JL: Yeah. That’s one aspect of it, but you know generally we think those, at least in terms of their impediments to movement, shouldn’t be much.
And then so the category of pedestrian fences, that includes things that are – concrete walls that are already constructed, mostly along the Rio Grande. In some places they essentially took the opportunity to make fences that also are levees. So they’re maybe fifteen feet of concrete wall with a fence on top of that, with metal fencing on top of that, to prevent people from getting over that initial distance.
And then some of them are what they call bollard fences, these metal posts that are put very close together, that prevent people from walking through. They’re maybe fifteen feet high or so, twenty feet high, I’m not sure, the actual heights may vary.
The mix of things that are out there right now – Trump, during the campaign, and subsequently, has talked about how he wants to make something that’s impenetrable, something that sounds like it would be concrete and thirty feet tall. That’s something that would stop pretty much any animal that can’t fly, and even a lot of flying animals don’t like to go up high, because the smaller ones are very vulnerable to predation from hawks and owls and things. So that kind of a barrier or wall that they would put in would be a lot more – would have a lot stronger impacts on wildlife even beyond what’s out there even now. That would stop everything.
DJ: And currently … whatever you can sort of estimate as roughly as you want, what percentage of – and we’re talking from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, right?
DJ: And so what percentage of that would you say is currently covered by a wall that would have a somewhat significant impact on wildlife movement. One percent? Ten percent? Three percent? Ninety percent? I dunno.
JL: So currently, from what was already put in, I’d estimate something like twenty percent maybe, has barriers that would be major impediments to wildlife.
You know those numbers are a little hard to put your finger on because a lot of mileage along the border is made up of the Rio Grande river, which is just sort of meandering back and forth. So you chalk up a lot of miles, kind of, in that meander. But, you know, there are several hundred miles of that pedestrian fence that were put in. Mostly along the coastal regions and also in southern Arizona.
DJ: And is the proposal – if Trump got everything he wanted, would we then be talking about a hundred percent?
JL: Yeah, that’s what he’s calling for. That’s really unrealistic even if they were given carte blanche to do this. A lot of these areas have pretty steep mountains and the costs would become really sky high. In addition, the Texas border is mostly owned by private landowners. And so a lot of them have already started suing and a lot of them did sue after the Bush administration started trying to build down there.
So in terms of what’s realistic, what he’s likely to get, it’s really hard to pin down right now. But one thing that’s probably indicative of the challenge that’s faced is that there’s not a single congress person from the border region, that represents the border districts or border state, who supports the construction of these barriers. That’s from both parties. So that’s a pretty important lesson for trying to guess what’s likely to happen, despite the campaign pledges.
DJ: So does the – and I’m sorry that this is such an ignorant question, but does the Rio Grande already present a significant barrier to wildlife movement? If we drop humans out of this equation for a moment, or at least drop industrial humans. So we go back 600 years. Was the Rio Grande a significant barrier to migration at that point? Or is the barrier the problem there? The point is; adding a wall to that, does that significantly then – I’m just wondering because so often coastal areas and lowlands are the prime habitat for many creatures, but then also rivers make barriers. So how did that play out?
JL: In a lot of places, the Rio Grande is a pretty narrow river, actually. So I don’t think there’s much evidence that it’s had a major impact on the types of organisms that are on either side, because of their ability to move back and forth.
If you go to bigger rivers, you do see those kinds of patterns. Like if you go to the Amazon, for example, which can be very wide in some places, in many places. But in a lot of places, the Rio Grande is less than ten yards across. That’s sort of getting out into West Texas, it’s very narrow like that. Down in the Rio Grande Valley maybe a few hundred yards at most. So it’s really not a very wide river in a lot of these places.
DJ: So let’s now talk a little about – you’ve mentioned jaguars. Can you talk about who is already affected by the current wall and who would be affected by a larger wall? Talk about some specifics, if you don’t mind.
JL: Sure. So we think that currently there should already be some negative impact on for example jaguar. Because that’s a species that formerly ranged across the southwest United States and bred across the southwest, including even into Louisiana, for example. Those populations were hunted out almost a hundred years ago. But there are still populations in northern Mexico, in the western part of northern Mexico.
So you have a few individual jaguars that have been coming back across the border, across the years. And those individuals definitely rely on breeding populations in northern Mexico. So that would stop if you put those barriers across, and there are already a fair number of pedestrian barriers in southern Arizona. And those are barriers that, even if they have small openings in them, that’s the kind of thing that if it stops a person, it’s going to stop a jaguar.
You also have things like ocelot in South Texas. You’ve got some small populations of endangered ocelot, which is another tropical cat. These populations are isolated and that’s a pretty intensely agricultural landscape already. So there’s probably pretty rare movement of those individuals through the agricultural landscape back with populations in Mexico, although there are people working on enhancing natural vegetation to promote that kind of ocelot movement. But that’s a region where they’ve already installed, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, they’ve already installed a fair number of pedestrian fences and walls in the first round of this. And if they were to go forward, that would definitely stop many of the … further movement.
In the California Coast, for example, this is a region again where you already had a lot of urbanization. But it’s also a really biologically important region because we have a lot of species that are endemic to the California coast. Once you get up over the California coastal mountains and go inland, you get some very dry deserts. So you have a lot of species that are specialized and endemic to that California coastal region. And a lot of them are already at risk of extinction or threatened with extinction, and that’s a region where they put up a lot of pedestrian fences, essentially pedestrian fence most of the way across the California coastal ecoregion, in the first round of construction.
DJ: This is all great. This is very informative for people.
What about, with the actual concrete barrier – I know that you probably have your hands full with studying the more charismatic megafauna, but it seems to me that in addition this would be devastating to all sorts of smaller creatures who might migrate too. I’m thinking of salamander or frog migrations, and even insect migrations. Once again, I recognize that there is only so much money to be able to study so many types of creatures, but do you know anything about that, too?
JL: Yes. In our study, we were very interested in taking a look at all vertebrate species, because that’s what we really have good information on, and we thought they would be most likely to be impacted in terms of their movement. And a lot of those long-term impacts that I talked about earlier in our conversation, where allowing organisms to disperse across the landscape can be critical to maintaining a species because if the population goes extinct, individuals from other populations can refound that population. That’s the kind of process that we think is really important for a lot of species that are often pretty small-bodied. Things like amphibians or reptiles. In the southwest of the US and along the Mexican border, we have a lot of species like that, that are restricted to very small regions that are often already threatened, for example on the California coast you have things like arroyo toad, which is a threatened species that now – previous threats may have largely been from habitat destruction, but now we’re talking about also, over the long term, stopping movement back and forth across the border. Which, over the long term, we think would be potentially a major impact, or major threat to survival of the species. So for those smaller species where there’s often really not large populations and they’re only in a sort of small region, we think those are most vulnerable to actual extinction.
We talk about the megafauna because it’s easy for people to think about the impacts that an individual puma might face by not being able to cross the border to find food, but that’s an impact that’s relatively immediate. But puma and jaguar, these are species that range across very large, they’re distributed across very large areas. So puma’s not going to go extinct because of this, and jaguar’s not going to go extinct. Those things are – because of these barriers. Because they’re found across such large areas. But these endemic species that are usually pretty small-bodied things like amphibians and small mammals and reptiles, those are ones that, over the long term, we think are actually at bigger risk for extinction because of the lack of movement across the landscape, especially along the border.
DJ: We haven’t yet talked about the effects of this sort of massive construction project. You mentioned it, but do you want to talk about that more? Have you studied that too?
JL: Sure. We haven’t specifically, but the main thing I’ll say about that, I think, is that we typically have environmental review processes that go into effect. Studies that are carried out any time you have major construction projects, or major infrastructure projects. These kind of reviews and studies are in keeping with environmental regulatory law that we built up as a society, as a country over decades, and we did those things for good reasons. And the very distinct characteristic of border fences and border walls is that the Secretary of Homeland Security can ignore all of that law. So the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Antiquities Act, any regulatory law whatsoever can be ignored by the Secretary of Homeland Security in the construction of these border barriers. That’s part of the Real ID Act of 2005. And so what that means is that, usually with any big construction project you would first take a look and say “Well, what are we going to be disturbing here? And how can we mitigate that, or how important are these disturbances?”
That doesn’t have to happen at all here, and it didn’t happen with the Bush administration’s construction.
DJ: And that means not only is there no administrative appeal, there’s no judicial appeal?
JL: Well, there’s a lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity filed just recently in conjunction with some members of the House of Representatives from the region. But there were not any successful legal challenges that happened under the Bush administration. And I’m skeptical that there’s a judicial route to stopping this either, just based on the blanket, the very broad authority that’s given under the Real ID Act.
DJ: So let’s pretend that Trump gets his fantasy and he’s going to build a big concrete/metal barrier that does run from sea to shining sea. And this would seem to be a construction project that would be pretty big. And do we have any idea – would this – I’m guessing this would take orders of magnitude more than, say, the Grand Coulee Dam, or Hoover Dam? The point is, it seems like an – are there any comparisons for how large this construction project would be? It seems like it would be comparable to parts of the interstate highway system, or something.
JL: Yeah, that’s the only thing that I can think of as a sort of similar parallel. Where it goes across so many different jurisdictions and so many different landholders, and it involves a substantial amount of work. I think that would be the closest parallel, sure, for what we’re talking about here.
One interesting facet of this that explains why there’s a lot of resistance in Texas is that actually once you go west of Texas, into New Mexico, Arizona and California; the federal government owns a strip of land along the border, what’s called the Roosevelt Reservation. It’s, I don’t know, maybe a hundred yards wide maybe, I can’t remember its exact width. But it’s very narrow. It’s just enough, in most of the places, to allow the federal government to do this without having to get condemnations of private landowners’ land to do it. But in Texas the great majority of it is in private hands. And so it becomes a much more challenging battle. I’m not really too familiar with what went on during the construction of interstate highways along those lines, but probably there’s a useful comparison.
DJ: So I know that your emphasis is on environmental stuff, as opposed to sociopolitical stuff, but do you happen to know why they’ve not got – why this is so unpopular among even representatives along the border? You would think that at least in some town in Arizona there would be a representative who was in favor of this because some of his constituency is very opposed to immigration.
JL: I think that there’s a few things involved. One is that people who don’t live on the border are often overestimate the level of violence that occurs in border communities, at least on the US side. A lot of these US border communities are some of the safest in the country. So that’s one side of it. El Paso is actually a very safe city, despite the fact that Ciudad Juarez across the border has seen a lot of violence.
So that’s one part of it. I think another part of it is that the barriers are really very ineffective. People are very ingenious. There’s a reason why we are, why we’ve been able to do so much as a species, that wild animals have not been able to do, to get through this barrier. Once they started building metal fences, they very quickly have to – Homeland Security has had to invest a lot in maintaining those, because people come out there with torches to cut holes in them, and people build tunnels. The experience with, that’s been seen in the Middle East along the Israel-Palestine border with tunnel-building really highlights how easy it is to build undetected tunnels. If you’re talking about the US-Mexico border, we’ve got hundreds of miles of desert where it’s not really very well monitored, so it’s very easy to build tunnels out there, or to build ladders to go up over. Catapults, people build. People learn to climb the fences. They’re really very ineffective.
DJ: Two things. One of them is I saw a picture the other day about – it had, like “Problem” and it showed a wall, and then “Solution” and it had a ladder that cost thirty bucks at Home Depot. And the other one is we all have heard these stories about these tunnels that are very – that are used, and actually quite sophisticated, to bring in cocaine, or marijuana. So it just seems like – I am again agreeing with you on how everything I’ve heard is it’s not tremendously – even if they want to, even if we argue that stopping immigration from Mexico is a good idea, that this is just not a very effective means to do so.
JL: Yeah, I think it’s pretty widely recognized in those communities, you know, what are effective strategies and what are not effective strategies and it’s very clear that these kind of barriers that look good in photo ops are really very ineffective.
DJ: Well, it should be a really great barrier to keep all the illegal jaguars out.
JL: Right, yeah (laughs). I mean, that’s the sad part of it is that it’s very easy for people to defeat these things, but the jaguar’s not, even if they could dig, they wouldn’t think to dig ten feet underground. That’s really the only option for something like that. There’s nothing really that something like that could do. Or smaller animals, for that matter.
DJ: As long as we’re talking about this, is there – you mentioned earlier, the lights. And I know your specialty is not light pollution, but do you happen to know what effects that might have on wildlife as well, to have those extremely – what did you call them? The floodlights?
JL: Yeah, stadium lighting.
DJ: The stadium lighting. That seems to me that it would really have some extremely harmful effects on whoever is out there at night.
JL: Yeah, I mean it’s pretty widely recognized in studying wildlife movement that lots of animals like to move in dark and under the cover of vegetation. So that they’re not seen by predators, or if they’re predators, act so that their prey don’t see them. So there’s a reason that a lot of animals are active at night. So if you put up bright lights, that really scares them away. If you destroy the natural vegetation, that also really limits the movement of those animals out into the open.
DJ: We have about ten minutes left, so I’d like to start winding down. And I don’t know that it’s quite time for this yet. What can people do for – if somebody cares about jaguars or arroyo toads, what can they do, both on this larger issue, and then – that’s the first question, and then the second question is going to be about smaller barriers. But we’ll talk about that in a moment. So first, on this issue, what can people do?
JL: I think policy-wise the key consideration here that would really solve a lot of these issues, or would dramatically improve a lot of these issues would be if the Real ID Act provision that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all regulatory law, if that were to be repealed. That, I think, would place these kinds of projects back into the normal sphere of anything we do, either governmental or non-governmental, so that we can properly study impacts of our actions. So that, I think, is the number one policy change that I think would help alleviate a lot of these biodiversity threats.
DJ: So far as the – let me know if this is wrong, but it sounds to me like what you’re suggesting, or your perspective is that Trump is actually not likely to get his wish on this, and it might not be as – it is as big a threat if it actually occurs, but it might not actually occur. Is that reasonably accurate? Or do you think he’ll be able to get great parts of it built?
JL: Well, this is complicated. What he was promising was really extreme. He was promising an impenetrable wall across the entire border. Now that’s far, far far beyond what’s there currently, but even if he wasn’t to get that – they’ve already had some success. That’s actually been misreported a lot, at least from my perspective, in terms of wildlife movement.
So in the budget deal that was recently agreed to, to fund the rest of 2017 fiscal year, it was widely reported that there is no money for the border wall. And it’s true that there’s no money for a wall to be constructed in places where there was nothing before. But there was – I’m trying to pull up the number, but I don’t have it in front of me. I want to say something like $150 million. There was something like that much money to convert vehicle fence into pedestrian fence. So pedestrian fencing, that can include things that are essentially impenetrable walls, in going from a vehicle fence, which is something that we’re not too concerned about in terms of animal movement.
So that was a compromise, presuming that a lot of representatives wouldn’t necessarily have supported, but did, I’m guessing, in the interest of the compromise that’s required to pass the budget agreement.
So I can see that – this is even sort of something that I imagine could have been possible under the Obama administration, which is – that’s current, it’s often been talked about in negotiations for immigration overhauls, that one part of immigration overhaul would be strengthening of the border. And that could happen in different ways. But you could imagine some deal that gives a path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants that are currently in the country, and also puts money into building some more of these walls. And I could see that kind of thing happening, so it’s not clear, you know, what kind of scope we’re talking about there, it’s unclear what kind of money would be involved. It’s a pretty complicated political question. But I definitely – as we’ve seen with this fiscal year 2017 budget, there is still movement happening on this, even though it’s likely to be at a much smaller scale than Trump promised. But the promises that he made were really ridiculous in terms of their feasibility.
DJ: You know, you and I haven’t talked about the sort of metaphysical aspect, or the philosophical aspect of this. The insanity of building artificial barriers along completely human-made lines that have nothing to do with the natural world. In some ways, the whole wall – the building of an impenetrable wall is, I don’t know, it’s almost like the central metaphor of this culture. Of building this completely artificial thing that’s actually not even going to accomplish the purposes that they state it will accomplish, and in so doing, you’re devastating – you’re inhibiting the ability of nonhumans to survive. It seems like there’s a metaphor in there.
JL: Yeah. I often think of this because people have talked about “Well, couldn’t we put little openings in the wall to allow animals to move through? Could we put some natural vegetation along the wall?” Or something. Those kind of things are really counter to a lot of what the border patrol is trying to do. They want to be able to see things. They want to have lighting. They want to have no vegetation there. And so it kind of gets at the fact that both people who are crossing and also animals who are crossing want to move undetected in the dark, and under cover of vegetation or whatever. So those two things are fundamentally at odds. It’s really hard to sort of pull those two apart. And it seems to me that there are other ways to approach the policy questions here, y’know like things people can do to remove pressure on the human side of people crossing undocumented. That seems to me a much more sound strategy than this one, which is technically more challenging and results in this fundamental conflict between humans and wildlife.
DJ: And you know we’re running out of time, but we also have not talked about the effects of continuously spraying herbicides along a swath of land, too. That can’t be a good thing.
JL: Yeah, that could be – and again, that’s one of the many detailed aspects of these kinds of projects that normally you would want subject to some regulatory law, so that if there were negative impacts you could say your drinking water is getting contaminated or something. You could sue in court, normally. You can’t for this, though, at least under things like the Clean Water Act. The only rules that apply, if the Secretary of Homeland Security chooses – the only rules that apply are those of the Constitution. Beyond that, they can waive the rest of the legislation that we’ve built up over the decades.
DJ: So the last question I want to ask is, to take this – what can you say to people that will help them to understand the importance not only of animal movement having to do with this particular border wall, but I’m thinking about highways, I’m thinking about roads. I’m thinking about the time 25 years ago when I saw an entire salamander migration wiped out on a busy road. I’m thinking about how can we look at animal migrations differently, having to do with the barriers that humans create? Is there anything you want to say about that?
JL: I think it’s just maybe useful if you’re sort of thinking, looking at the landscape around you, useful sort of to think about how would an animal move through this landscape? And do you see animals moving through this landscape? You can try to just imagine things a bit from animal perspective. And a lot of people I think can intuitively understand things that would or would not favor animal movement.
These animals that we’re conserving already, things that are threatened perhaps; these often play important roles in ecosystems, and humans benefit from ecosystems, and we also have some aesthetic pleasure we get from wildlife in natural ecosystems. So I think those are some of the reasons to consider for conservation of salamanders, and their movement, for example. Where some people might say “Oh, I don’t really benefit much from salamanders.”
We know that ecosystems are complicated and their functioning often depends on many of the smaller components that people often are ignorant of.
DJ: Well thank you so much for doing the interview. And thank you for your work, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Jesse Lasky. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.