Science & Environment

Trump’s Border Wall Caused ‘Significant’ Harm: Report

The development of former President Donald Trump’s wall alongside the U.S.-Mexico border desecrated Indigenous cultural websites, damage wildlife, destroyed vegetation, dried up key water assets, exacerbated the danger of flooding and triggered erosion that has left mountain slopes “unstable and at risk of collapse,” in accordance with a brand new report.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan authorities watchdog, reviewed federal knowledge and interviewed authorities officers, Native American tribes and stakeholders over the course of two years. The result’s a complete take a look at the widespread cultural and environmental hurt — a lot of which consultants had predicted — that got here from Trump’s relentless pursuit of what he referred to as a “big, beautiful wall” alongside the southern U.S. border.

The Trump administration spent an estimated $15 billion establishing greater than 400 miles of border wall, a lot of which changed smaller present boundaries. It waived quite a few environmental legal guidelines alongside the way in which. Trump had insisted throughout his marketing campaign that Mexico would foot the invoice for the development, however Mexico by no means paid a dime.

Laiken Jordahl, a conservation advocate on the left-leaning Center for Biological Diversity who paperwork environmental harm within the borderlands, informed HuffPost the report “confirms all our worst fears about the damage wall construction has inflicted” on wildlife, public lands and cultural assets.

Among different issues, development of the wall fragmented wildlife habitats, lower off species’ migration routes and destroyed historical cacti and different native vegetation.

“These border walls haven’t done a thing to address immigration or smuggling, but they did drive endangered species closer to extinction, butcher thousands of iconic saguaro cacti and dynamite Indigenous sacred sites and burial grounds,” Jordahl mentioned. “This is a clear warning that any attempt to build additional miles of border walls would be a horrifically destructive and useless folly.”

A hill at Coronado National Monument in Hereford, Arizona, was blasted for border wall development on Sept. 22, 2022.

GUILLERMO ARIAS by way of Getty Images

The federal audit notably follows a federal choose ordering Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday to take away floating buoys from the Rio Grande — a barrier that, like Trump’s wall, was meant to discourage migrants from crossing the border and that has raised strikingly comparable environmental and humanitarian issues.

Citing info gathered from quite a few unidentified federal and tribal officers, the GAO concluded that Trump’s wall negatively impacted cultural and pure assets alike.

“From the start, President Trump’s border wall was nothing more than a symbolic message of hate, aimed at vilifying migrants and bolstering extreme MAGA rhetoric,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who in 2021 requested the GAO look into the wall’s environmental impacts, mentioned in a press release responding to the report. “This racist political stunt has been an ineffective waste of billions of American taxpayers’ dollars — and now we know it has caused immeasurable, irreparable harm to our environment and cultural heritage as well.”

In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in southern Arizona that’s residence to quite a few endangered species, contractors bulldozed and blasted land to be able to increase an present patrol street. The work broken parts of Monument Hill, which is residence to cultural and burial websites sacred to the Tohono O’odham and different Native American tribes.

At close by Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis within the Sonoran Desert that’s sacred to the Tohono O’odham folks, tribal leaders informed the GAO that contractors cleared a big space and destroyed a burial web site that the tribal nation had hoped to guard.

“Tribal and agency officials and four of the five stakeholders we interviewed told us that some projects caused significant damage and destruction to cultural resources, including historic sites and sites sacred to Tribes,” the report states. “Tohono O’odham Nation officials explained that damage and destruction to such sites is often irreparable because it can disrupt or end rites revered or cherished by specific cultural groups.”

Border wall construction at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Lukeville, Arizona, on Jan. 7, 2020.
Border wall development at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Lukeville, Arizona, on Jan. 7, 2020.

Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post by way of Getty Images

Construction has severely affected water assets. In San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, an artesian nicely “no longer naturally flows to the surface” and “now requires mechanical pumps to maintain water pressure,” the report notes, citing info gathered from a stakeholder. “Moreover, some ponds in the refuge are now void of water, which makes it difficult to maintain water levels in other ponds that have threatened and endangered fish species,” it reads.

Officials with the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management highlighted the elevated threat of flooding in sure areas as newly constructed roads have blocked the pure movement of water.

Perhaps the wall’s greatest environmental affect is on animals and crops alongside the border.

As the report particulars, boundaries have restricted the motion of quite a few species, together with the endangered Sonoran pronghorn and Mexican grey wolf. In Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, towering border fences have “fragmented the endangered ocelot’s habitat” and “severed the animal’s travel corridors across the border” — penalties {that a} joint settlement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection discovered to have “substantially elevated the risks of the ocelot’s extinction in the U.S.,” the GAO report notes.

One of the extra dramatic scenes to play out alongside the border throughout Trump’s tenure was development employees chopping down historical, protected saguaro cacti — a clearing effort that the report notes allowed for invasive species to take maintain. Pictures on the time confirmed big, thorny cacti toppled and limbs discarded on the facet of filth roads.

The Tohono O’odham Nation considered the destruction as a cultural assault in addition to an environmental one.

“The Tohono O’odham Nation officials explained that the saguaro is significant to O’odham culture and livelihood, as the saguaro provides an important fruit source and is a sacred plant to be given utmost respect, as a relative,” the report reads.

A dead cactus lies near the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on Feb. 13, 2020.
A useless cactus lies close to the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on Feb. 13, 2020.

Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP by way of Getty Images

Then there’s “significant erosion” stemming from contractors slicing by way of distant mountains and building roads and development staging areas. Steep slopes have been left “unstable and at risk of collapse” and “incomplete erosion control measures along the barrier and patrol roads threatened the integrity of the barrier system itself,” in accordance with the report.

In Arizona’s Pajarito Mountains within the Coronado National Forest, clearing vegetation for one staging space brought on the soil to erode. A Forest Service official informed the GAO all the mountainside is now vulnerable to collapse.

Jordahl referred to as the GAO’s findings “horribly devastating.”

“The description of damage to sacred sites and burial grounds is jarring,” he mentioned by way of e-mail. “The description of wall construction permanently damaging the artesian well system that feeds spring habitats that sustain endangered species at the San Bernardino National Wildlife [R]efuge is horrifying. This could ultimately lead to the extinction of the endemic species that live there. The parts about severe erosion concerns are also sobering.”

The report, he mentioned, “reveals the dire want for mitigation and restoration, and in the end, the necessity to tear down the wall the place it blocks vital migration routes for endangered species like jaguars, ocelots and Sonoran pronghorn.”

In interviews with the GAO, officers at CBP and different companies blamed a number of the detrimental impacts on President Joe Biden’s proclamation in 2021 that halted border wall development, which they mentioned prevented work to put in street culverts and revegetate cleared areas.

The report notes that CBP and the Interior Department have agreed to GAO’s suggestions, together with working collaboratively on a technique for mitigating border wall impacts.

The Interior Department declined to touch upon the findings. CBP pointed HuffPost to the report, which incorporates the company’s response that it concurs with the GAO’s suggestions.

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