A Year of Devastation in Arizona’s Wild Lands

The New York Times (November 1, 2020) by Laiken Jordahl

Saguaro cactuses, some nearly a century old, in shards on the desert floor. Jaguars, lost, because a metal wall has blocked their migratory path. Endangered species homeless because their critical habitats have been destroyed.

Living and working along the U.S.-Mexico border means watching the surreal, slow-motion leveling of the wild and fragile ecosystems I’ve spent my career fighting to protect.

Contractors have bulldozed through all four southern border states, with nearly 400 miles of wall built or replaced under the Trump administration. But Arizona, with 372 miles of shared border of Mexico, has borne the brunt of the environmental damage. These are parts of the country so spectacular — with ragged mountainous terrain and sweeping desert valleys — that they’re protected by state, national and international laws.

Most of the harm has been inflicted in the past year, after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed wall construction to proceed, even though multiple lower courts ruled the funding for the project unconstitutional. Construction crews broke ground in August 2019, digging trenches and bulldozing wilderness to install 30-foot tall steel bollards filled with concrete.

Much of this has flown under the radar for most Americans, who’ll never get to experience these spectacular Sonoran Desert landscapes as they once were.

Late last summer, you could drive though Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, without seeing hundreds of butchered saguaro cactuses plowed over and rotting in the shadow of the new wall.

You could take a trip down one of Arizona’s most rugged and storied travel routes, the Devil’s Highway through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, without choking on the dust of hundreds of construction vehicles.

You could walk the 800-mile Arizona Trail and arrive at its stunning southern terminus, a rugged pass in the Huachuca Mountains and a key wildlife corridor for endangered jaguars and ocelots. There you could gaze into the serene wild lands of Sonora, Mexico, without peering through the tiny gaps of steel bollards.

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