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Protecting the Borderlands


On a recent trip to Tucson, Arizona, from my home just outside Washington, D.C., I sat in the garden in my mom's back yard and just listened. I knew I would not have time to make it to any of the national parks, wilderness areas, or wildlife refuges of the borderlands on this trip, but I couldn't visit the region without at least hearing the voice of the Sonoran Desert.
As I sat there, a hummingbird jetted around the blooms of a desert willow tree, a perturbed curve-billed thrasher chattered from the branches of a palo verde tree, an unseen mourning dove cooed unceasingly, a goldfinch perched silently nearby and contemplated me contemplating him, a giant swallowtail floated by and the wind whispered through branches and leaves all around. And in an instant I remembered why I have spent the past eight years documenting the wildlife, wildlands and people of the US-Mexico borderlands. And I wished members of Congress could hear what I heard and see what I have seen.

I embarked on this project because I had seen first-hand how U.S. immigration and border policy were imperiling wildlife, destroying habitat and migration corridors, and eroding the rich borderlands culture. And because few in the United States knew what our policy was doing to this fragile landscape, or even that there was anything worth protecting in the borderlands.

Work by groups like the Sierra Club Borderlands Team, Sky Island Alliance, and many others is beginning to change that, but not fast enough. Congress is currently considering a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that would build more border walls and expand environmental waivers. These waivers have allowed the Department of Homeland Security to gouge roads into designated wilderness areas and build walls and roads all along the border without the guidance of environmental laws. The border provisions of the immigration bill would continue and expand the same ineffectual policies that have already cost taxpayers billions of dollars while destroying wildlife corridors and habitat.

In hopes of changing this destructive course, I worked with Texas A&M University press to publish Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall, which shows a story of the borderlands that few have heard, and that members of Congress especially need to know. In a nutshell, borderlands wildlife and wildlands are rare, imperiled and precious and our policy is destroying the region year by year. I have raised funds to deliver copies of the book to Congress and, working with Sierra Club members, I have visited 100 offices so far. My message has been simple - no more walls, no more environmental waivers.

We have to stop sacrificing the borderlands on the altar of the politics of compromise. We have already subjected this region to the largest waiver of law in U.S. history for the past eight years, removing Endangered Species Act protections for the jaguar, ocelot, Sonoran pronghorn, and many others. We have allowed the government to violate the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act, and 34 other federal laws protecting cultural and historic sites, public health, and the environment. We have already built approximately 650 miles of walls and barriers through rare habitat and migration corridors. We have to stop sacrificing the borderlands.

Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents who care about wildlife and environmental law. We need members of the public to stand up for jaguars, bighorn sheep and ocelots of the borderlands, for the wildflowers and wolves and saguaro cactus, the birds and butterflies, and yes, the people who are at the mercy of these policies. Please help. Write a letter to the editor at your local paper, call your senators or write them a card. Share my book and send it to your Congressional representative.

-- Krista Schlyer, author of "Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall". Photos by Krista Schlyer.

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